The Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (URNJ-Uganda) has condemned the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) for shutting down media houses on grounds of hosting Ugandans opposed to the removal of the 75-year age limit cap from the Constitution.
“The UCC’s actions of shutting down media houses without due process is oppressive and uncalled for. They should carry out thorough investigations before taking any punitive action. Ordering a media house to suspend its staff is going over board, and is not part of UCC’s mandate. Such actions are intended to curtail freedom of expression and media freedom,” HRNJ-Uganda National Coordinator, Robert Ssempala said in Tuesday press release.
On October 21, 2017, UCC shut down a private radio station, Kanungu Broadcasting Services Ltd. (KBS) on allegations of breaching the ‘minimum broadcasting standards’.
The KBS Radio Director, Mr. Charles Byaruhanga at the time said UCC did not tell them the exact reason for the closure.
“They were alleging that we breached broadcasting standards, but when we asked them the exact problem, they did not tell us.” Byaruhanga said.
But UCC accused KBS of alleged breach of the minimum broadcasting standards as set forth in section 31 and schedule 4 of the Uganda Communications Commission Act 2013, which calls for a broadcaster to ensure any program it broadcasts is not likely to create public insecurity or violence.
The closure of the radio station came days after it hosted the four time presidential candidate and former president of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change party, retired Col. Dr. Kizza Besigye, who is currently detained by the police at Naggalama on claims of holding an illegal assembly in Rukungiri, Western Uganda.
On October 17, 2017, UCC also instructed KBS management to suspend two of its staff including the Station manager Ronald Agaba aka Mwene Ngaro and Desmond Kyokwijuka Misairi, the host of the Global Focus program and anchor of the Rukiga news, on allegations of fueling public insecurity and violence –a claim which is denied by the victims and their employers at KBS radio.
The station was re-opened after a closed meeting between the radio management, the Kinkizi West Member of Parliament James Kaberuka and some district officials including the District Chairman and District Councilors at the UCC offices at Bugolobi in Kampala.
KBS Manager Agaba confirmed he was suspended by his bosses following a directive from UCC. “I was suspended from the radio and as I speak, I am at home, though I don’t know my crime,” he said.
Efforts to get a comment from the Executive Director of UCC Eng. Godfrey Mutabazi were futile as he was reportedly engaged in a meeting.
KBS Radio is the second station shut down this year after Radio Hoima in May this year. Radio Hoima was shut down on grounds of violating the ‘minimum broadcasting standards’, though it was later cleared of any wrong doing and re-opened.
In the same vein, on September 26, 2017, UCC banned all live broadcasts of parliamentary debate on age limit removal citing discrimination, inciting violence, stirring up hatred, promoting a culture of violence amongst the viewers, threatening to revoke operating licenses for non-complying media houses.
Over the years UCC has been accused for shutting down radio stations that host politicians opposed to the policies and programmes of the ruling party-the National Resistance Movement, an act which many see as infringing on the rights and freedoms of speech.