On 29th April, Uganda Communication Commission issued a horrifying statement to various broadcasting stations in Uganda over alleged continuous breach of the Minimum Broadcast Standards. The directive statement to 13 broadcast stations to suspend producers, Head of News and Head of Programs from 6 Television stations and 7 radio stations. These include Akabbozi Fm, BBS TV, Beat Fm, Bukedde TV, Capital Fm, CBS Fm, Kingdom TV, NBS TV, NTV, Pearl Fm, Salt Fm, Sapientia Fm and Radio Simba.
The Commission issued the statement after the stations continuously showed live content and reports about the events of Hon. Robert Kyagulanyi. The regulator alleged that there was immediate need for carrying out an investigation whether the programmed content misrepresented information to mislead the public, had extremist or anarchic messages for political and other purposes and also incited the public against other members of public based on their political, religious, cultural and tribal affiliations likely to create public insecurity or violence.
During the meeting carried out on 7th May between UCC and NAB , the regulator agreed that the suspended individuals step aside for investigations but shall continue working with the broadcaster. UCC executive director
Godfrey Mutabazi was in agreement with putting the accused members in other positions as long as they give way for the UCC to carry out their investigations. “We don’t care whether they [suspended staff] become writers, cameramen so long as they can put in another position…so that we can come and freely investigate.” added Mutabazi.
The affected broadcasters like NBS and pearl FM agreed to suspend their staff for 30 days to allow the UCC investigations to be carried out. Therefore, these journalists like head of news Joyce Bagala, Chris Wanobere the progammes manager and producer Canary Mugume have been moved to other departments because the suspension order. NTV refused to respond suspension directives of their staff from their positions until UCC produces more and specific evidence per each accused individual.
PICTORIAL: Showing Police Brutality On Journalists
While the Commission was attacking the media, several global media practitioners, including several from Uganda were in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa to mark the 26th global staging of World Press Freedom Day. So, while other countries like Ethiopia were being commended for moving up the World Press freedom index, Uganda’s outstanding drop was also recognized in a country where the president has depended on the press to air out his views and ideas to the public.
William Tayebya the Head of Department of Journalism and Communication at Makerere University released a statement saying that although media practitioners have an obligation to act responsibly, they also need to stick to their commitment to promote fact-based reporting as they were trained. He also emphasized that the media have a vital role to play in promoting good governance through African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) which include observance of human rights such as freedom of expression and of the media. He also outlined that during the conference, the media was accorded for its crucial role to a healthy democracy and their importance in this digital age where misinformation and disruptive stories is passed on online platforms.
The Journalists in Uganda as has been reported, are still being harassed by Resident District Commissioners, the Uganda Police Force and the UCC that should be standing by them as they see to it that concrete information and also express their freedom of press. This in many ways has therefore portrayed the press as enemies of the state, which is not their aim but to inform and educate the public about the nation and the people that govern them so as to let them make their own decisions according to their personal opinions.
The Uganda Journalists’ Association along with other organisations that fight for the rights of scribes in Uganda have condemned the directive by the Uganda Communications Commission to suspend staff from different media houses, over what the commission terms as breaches of the minimum broadcasting standards. The journalists say the directive is beyond the mandate of the commission and have vowed to ignore it.
The President of the Uganda Journalists Association(UJA), Hajji Kazibwe Bashir Mbaziira has called upon the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) to stop infringing on media rights.
“As Uganda gets ready to mark this year’s World Press Freedom Day, it’s saddening to learn of the continued infringement onto the media rights by several government agencies. We are aware of more journalists and media houses whose names and brands have been marked in red by the commission over doing their job in a way that is deemed “unfit”. These excesses by the authorities can’t go unchallenged,” reads the UJA president’s letter in part.
The Press and Journalist Act (2000) declares the Media as an independent body with the right inform Ugandans. Therefore, Stopping journalists from covering political protests and violence denies citizens access to information about what is going on the country. Although, UCC as a regulator claim to have the right to advise media houses suspend media personnel over breach of standards in the Judicial court basing on Robert Kalundi Serumaga story, former Radio Talk Show host who was forced to put down his tools of work from the station.
The same incident happened last year in Sept 19, UCC issued a directive to radio and TV stations in Uganda restricting them from carrying out live coverage of the return of Kyagulanyi to the country from the United States where he had gone for treatment after he had been tortured by the army.