President Yoweri Museveni enjoyed free prime time on all major radio and television stations in the country as he delivered his end of year speech last evening. This, thanks to a directive by the executive director of Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), Eng. Godfrey Mutabazi.
Mutabazi’s orders to all broadcast media houses, private and public, to relay the president’s speech was the latest in a long list of orders the communications regulator has issued in 2017. This publication takes you through some of these directives.
December 22: Mutabazi issued a directive to all TV and radio stations to air President Museveni’s New Year message, live.
“The commission hereby directs all broadcasters to ensure that the presidential New Year’s message is transmitted live on their stations on December 31 between 10.00PM and 12.00 midnight.”
This New Year address however was rescheduled to between 7:00PM and 9:00PM after complaints from broadcasters who argued that they had arranged programmes that could not be changed. Either way, the directive was adhered to.
November 21: Mutabazi directed Mbarara based Endigyito Radio in western Uganda to suspend a popular political programme – World Express and its host James Kasirivu. The World Express runs weekly between 2-5:30PM and is broadcast in Luganda. Mutabazi said the commission had also kick-started investigations into the programme starting November 1st to November 20th.
“The Commission in accordance with Section 29(b) of the UCC Act, directs you to submit recordings of the programme ‘World Express’ hosted and presented by a one Kasirivu ‘The Great…The commission further directs you to suspend the producer of the programme World Express as investigations are being conducted,” Mutabazi directed.
October 17: Mutabazi directed Kanungu Broadcasting Station (KBS) to suspend the station manager, Ronalds Agaba and Desmond Kyokwijuka Misri, the host of a political programme, The Global Focus. Mutabazi said the programme was likely to cause public insecurity and violence.
“The purpose of this letter is to inform KBS that the Commission has initiated investigations into this matter and to that end therefore, hereby orders KBS to immediately suspend the presenter a one Ronalds Mwengare Agaba and Desmond Kyokwijuka Misri, the radio station producer and his program aired on KBS with immediate effect as investigations are being concluded by the Commission,” Mutabazi wrote.
On October 20, Mutabazi directed Kanungu Broadcasting Services to cease operations. This was after the station’s failure to adhere to the above-mentioned directives – suspending two presenters and a political talk show, the Global Focus.
September 26: Mutabazi directed TVs to stop live broadcast of parliament proceedings. It was a day after opposition MPs were forcefully evicted from parliament and roughed up by security operatives for opposing the tabling of the “Age Limit bill.”
Mutabazi argued that the live broadcasts of such events on television and radio stations were “inciting the public, discriminating, stirring up hatred, promoting a culture of violence amongst the viewers and… likely to create public insecurity or violence.”
“The Commission hereby directs all broadcasters to immediately stop and refrain from broadcasting live feeds which are in breach of the minimum broadcasting standards and the best practice guidelines for electronic media coverage/ reporting and broadcasting of live events,” argued Mutabazi.
September 5: Mutabazi suspended ABS TV for what he called breach of minimum broadcasting standards.
“In spite of the several warnings and attempts to give the management of ABS Television time to review its programs and avoid further broadcast of offensive programs, ABS Television has continued to broadcast programs that are contrary to the Minimum Broadcasting Standards… All signal distributors are hereby required to immediately disable ABS Television content from their broadcasting platforms,” he directed.
May 25: Mutabazi suspended the broadcast license of Radio Hoima and ordered the station to cease operations immediately for allegedly airing sectarian content. Mutabazi explained that UCC had received numerous complaints indicating the radio had been hosting members of Bunyoro Kitara Reparation Agency (BUKITAREPA) who allegedly uttered sectarian statements.
“The Commission has reviewed the content of the aforementioned programs, and has confirmed that the statements and utterances made during the programs are sectarian, and promote violence and ethnical prejudice among the public… the Commission hereby suspends your broadcasting license as further investigations continue,” Mutabazi directed.
Dr Peter Mwesige, the African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME) executive director, says UCC deserves more attention from media, parliament and civil society organisations.
Dr Mwesigye’s argument came after Information minister, Frank Tumwebaze, in November announced a new commission board, a news piece that was never carried by radios, TVs and newspapers.
“I have in the past decried the inadequate attention that the Ugandan media, civil society, the opposition and parliament pay to the operations of the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), an institution that wields and exercises enormous power over broadcasting and telecommunications in our country,” Dr Mwesige said in a comment posted on ACME website.
He added; “In the last two years, for instance, UCC has effortlessly shut down social media and mobile money and banned live broadcasts of parliamentary proceedings and demonstrations, and temporarily closed some radio stations in moves that are widely believed to be politically motivated.”
On November 30, Prof John-Jean Barya, from the School of Law at Makerere University, also accused UCC of wielding too much power which it “abuses to serve the interests of the government in power. Prof Barya cited examples where radio stations are allowed to operate without licences, something he said was meant to push them into self-censorship.
In his end of year speech, President Museveni accused the media of “always focusing on trivialities and peripheral issues such as age limits and term limits” instead of contributing to the discussion on the growth and survival of Africa. I cannot end without calling on the media to be relevant in Africa’s struggle for survival. Yes, they can talk about sports clubs, foreign sports, foreign cultures; gambling; but let them also talk about the strategic goals of Africa: independence, democracy, economic integration for prosperity, political integration for strategic security and preserving our identity as Africans,” the president concluded his speech.
He called the above both a “moral and legal duty” for the media to do so. This means Mutabazi’s directives will only continue in 2018 should the president feel the moral and legal duties are not being attended to by a trivial media.