Kampala, 14th/September/2010; It is a full year since the historic day of darkness descended on to the media in Uganda when the government arbitrarily closed down five media houses.
On the 10th and 11th of September 2009, the government switched off Ssuubi Fm, Radio Two (locally known as Akaboozi), the catholic based Radio Sapientia, and the Buganda Kingdom’s 88.8 and 89.2 Central Broadcasting Services(CBS).
CBS remains closed to date with over 120 of its staff members unemployed while 18 other presenters got fired from different media houses namely; government owned Uganda Broadcasting Service, Vision Voice, Radio Sapientia, Radio Simba, Radio One, Record TV, Radio Buddu, WBS TV, Radio Two and Ssuubi fm
Amongst those fired include Kalundi Robert Sserumaga, Anthony Kibuuka, Herbert Yawe Kabanda, Peter Kibazo, Charles Odongotho, Rose Namwogerere, Omulangira Ndaula Jjuuko, Aloysius Matovu, Irene Kisseka, Ben Mutebi, Andrew Benon Kibuuka and Kivumbi a.k.a. Manyimatono.
Others who lost their jobs under duress are Chris Ssemakula, Basajja Mivule -though later reinstated with conditions, Kazibwe Bashir Mbaziira, Deo Walusimbi, Eddie Mukwaaba Katende and Mark Walungama
Although some media practitioners have secretly returned to their respective duties, it’s only Sserumaga who was charged with sedition which was later nullified by the constitutional court leaving others being persecuted for their work.
A case that would have brought back sanity challenging the actions of the Broadcasting Council was filed more than six months ago by the aggrieved journalists but has not taken off.
The Broadcasting Council (BC) has lost its moral purpose of overseeing and promoting the media work. It is now serving interests of the state as a result of the delayed justice from the court.
A case in point is where the BC chairman Eng. Godfrey Mutabazi directed a private owned radio Voice of Lango to suspend two presenters (Akena Patrick Ronex and Joe Orech) for hosting Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) president Dr. Olara Otunnu on 12th/April/2010.
Another case was filled in a bid to reverse Broadcasting Decision that banned the open space talk shows commonly known as ‘Ebimeeza’ but has been stagnant and referred to constitutional court to interpret the law used to file the case. The case was brought to court under ‘notice of Motion’
Eng. Mutabazi has used his office to acquire radio frequencies and licenses. He owns two radio stations including Voice of Kamwenge. This makes it difficult for him to fulfill his statutory duties due to conflict of interest.
“Eng. Mutabazi has been biased in his work and he is not accountable to the membership (electronic media) but the state. Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) Programmes Coordinator Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala said.
He added that, “No member of Broadcasting Council knows how the money collected from annual license is utilized. We have more than 150 operating electronic media houses in Uganda and each pays five million shillings (5,000,000/=) annually. How does this money benefit the various stakeholders at the end of the day?”
This full year also comes at a time when the media freedom in Uganda is facing a lot of challenges ranging from suffocative legislation, police harassment, murder, judicial sanctions, and public statement to attacks committed by politicians and members of the public against journalists with impunity.
The government did not only lose a case it brought against the Central Broadcasting Service in which it was accusing the radio of being responsible for them over 30 people who died and the loss of property lost by the public during the three day riots but the law on sedition which was baring the media and the public auditing the performance of government.
This not notwithstanding, the government seems very reluctant to re-open the radio despite efforts by the various stakeholders to prevail upon it to re-instate the it.
The year also falls when the quality of discussion and debate on pertinent issues especially governance and corruption has extremely gone down for fear of falling prey to government’s wrath and possible closure.
At Ssuubi FM which remained closed for almost five months, political and current affairs programmes were replaced by musical and entertainment ones while Kazibwe Bashir Mbaziira -deemed to be a critical journalist was laid off under unclear circumstances.
So there is immeasurable amount self censorship in the media today. This greatly affects the populace negatively because they never get to participate in most of the topical governance issues following the banning of their popular forums ‘Ebimeeza’, so they are bound to making uninformed decisions.
It can be summed up that since the September 11th 2009, the media in Uganda is going through very challenging times with extremely limited space to operate in a free and friendly environment.
We therefore recommend guaranteeing smooth media operation towards, during and after 2011 general elections;
• That the inspectorate of government (IGG) investigate Eng. Mutabazi for alleged abuse of office and punished him once proved guilty of offence.
• That Eng. Mutabazi be sent on faced leave to allow proper investigations
• The government should re-open CBS unconditionally if it has no case brought against it in the courts of law.
• The restrictive and suffocative laws aimed at muzzling the media should be abandoned.
• The government should take extra punitive measures to punish errant public and security personnel who harass, intimidate or torture journalists.
• The Presidential Guard Brigade should desist from arresting and detaining journalists at police station for days without taking them to courts of law where they can defend themselves.
• The government should look at the media as a partner in governance and development of this country and put in place environment that safeguards it.
• The government should honor all the international conventions and treaties in respect to freedom of speech and expression to which Uganda is a signatory.