Nine radio stations have declined to air campaign advertising material designed by the Inter-Party Cooperation to drum up support for their presidential candidate, Dr Kizza Besigye.
The Director for Publicity and Communication at the IPC Campaign Bureau, Ms Margaret Wokuri, told Sunday Monitor that they had contacted the nine FM stations as part of their effort to spread their campaign message countrywide.
Ms Wokuri said the stations are Super FM in Kampala District, Mighty Fire FM in Kitgum, Kiboga FM, Voice of Teso, Voice of Busoga, Rukungiri FM, Liberty FM in Masindi, Kinkizi FM in Kanungu, and Muhabura FM in Kisoro.
According to Ms Wokuri, when they contacted the sales agents of the nine FM stations to inquire whether they could do business with IPC, the agents for two of the radio stations, Kinkizi FM and Muhabura FM, flatly refused.
The agents for the other seven promised to revert on whether they could do business with IPC after contacting their respective managers, but returned with negative responses.
“For Super FM, they said they could not air our adverts because they didn’t agree with our content. They wanted to change the content, which of course we could not accept,” she said.
Efforts to speak to the proprietor of Super FM, Mr Peter Ssematimba, were futile. Mr Ssematimba’s assistant, who picked his phone, said he would not be available to comment on the issue since he was addressing his supporters at various campaign rallies.
Nearly all radio stations fingered by the IPC for refusing to air their adverts belong to politicians affiliated to the ruling National Resistance Movement party, which is led by President Museveni. The incumbent is campaigning against Dr Besigye and seven other candidates to retain the presidency. Many of the other seven candidates have also suffered media blackouts, especially in the countryside.
Among the most prominent radio stations owned by NRM-leaning politicians are Kinkizi FM (NRM Secretary General and Security Minister Amama Mbabazi), Voice of Teso and Voice of Busoga (NRM Vice Chairman for Eastern Uganda Capt. Mike Mukula), Rukungiri FM (former Health Minister Maj. Gen. Muhwezi), and Super FM (NRM politician Ssematimba).
Capt. Mukula, who is contesting to represent Soroti Municipality in Parliament on the NRM ticket, confessed that his two stations had declined to air Dr Besigye’s adverts. He defended the decision, saying it was the right of his companies to make decisions as they please.
“Me being the chairman board of directors [of Voice Media Group, which owns Voice of Teso and Voice of Busoga] and chairman of [NRM in Eastern] region, I don’t want to have problems with party. It is business alright [and] I definitely need that money but I also don’t want to jeopardise my political career,” he said.
Early this year, former youth state minister Felix Okot Ogong, who represents Dokolo County in Parliament, was compelled to write an apology to President Museveni after his FM radio station hosted Uganda People’s Congress party President Olara Otunnu.
Mr Ogong said in his written apology, which he sent to all major domestic media houses that he was sorry if Mr Otunnu’s appearance on his radio station had offended his party leader.
Ms Wokuri said they have written a formal complaint letter to the Electoral Commission.
Electoral Commission spokesman Willy Ochola said they would wait for the IPC formal complaint before taking action. “We shall talk to these people to find out why they are declining [to air IPC adverts]. Then, secondly, we shall consult with the Media Council to see what they can do about it because all issues to do with private radio stations are to do with the Media Council. They are the ones who can take action, including de-registering them.”
Mr Ochola, however, castigated the actions of the radio station managers and proprietors because “they are supposed to serve all Ugandans”.