A new study tells of how opposition political voices in Uganda continue to be muzzled by limited access to the airwaves especially radio stations owned by pro-government officials.
Using the last elections as the starting point, the study notes that candidates did not only focus on tackling issues such as poverty and agriculture and a large and growing bureaucracy, but “there was as well a contest over media outlets, especially radio which is the most common medium in Uganda, making the media an important player in the electoral process”.
The study reveals that many leading NRM politicians and NRM-leaning business people own radio stations all over the country and sometimes dictate who is hosted on the talk shows.
Conducted by the African Centre for Media Excellence, the study is titled: 'The Views Expressed Must Represent those of Management: Radio Ownership and Its Impact on Political Speech in Uganda’ .
It sought to establish whether political considerations, in whatever form, influence award of broadcast licences or allocation of frequencies and decisions to grant or deny different interested parties time on air.
The study documents various incidents in the campaign season during which opposition candidates were denied airtime on radio stations, especially those owned by pro-government business people and politicians.
Officials and candidates of the main opposition party, Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), were denied airtime several times on various radio stations in the country. FDC is led by Dr Kizza Besigye, the man who has challenged President Museveni for State House in the last three election cycles.
The national broadcaster UBC reneged on a contract with the FDC when the station did not air many of the adverts paid for by the party. The station later returned the deposit.
FDC officials told the researchers that Kagadi Kibaale Community Radio (KKCR), based in the Bunyoro region of western Uganda, inexplicably went off-air 15 minutes into a paid-for talk show sponsored by the party.
“The ‘mysterious’ stoppage of the programme was attributed to the fact that Mwalimu Musheshe, a founder and chairman of Uganda Rural Development and Training Programme, a non-governmental organisation that owns the station, was also the board chairman of the National Agricultural Advisory Services, a large-scale government programme that supports farmers,” says the report.
The radio station denied the allegations. Ms Jackline Akello, the director of programmes at KKCR, attributed the incident to power interruption.
“Indeed, Dr Besigye’s show on KKCR was supposed to run for one hour from 9 pm but our ten-year-old generator developed technical problems. The programme thus went off air after 20 minutes, and the problem was not solved until after about six hours.”
She added that while the station had for the past five years dedicated airtime to critical voices, “they have been using the time to abuse rivals and building their political careers instead of using it to build the community…We think democracy is bigger than politicians and any of their political organizations…We do not discriminate on the basis of political affiliation”.
The study found that six other radio stations in Bunyoro, namely, Bunyoro Broadcasting Services, King’s Broadcasting Services, Radio Kitara, Spice FM, Hoima FM, and Liberty Broadcasting Services, indeed denied Dr Besigye access to their services.
Likewise, Dr Besigye’s appearance on Nakaseke FM in central Uganda was blocked. Mr Peter Balaba, the station manager, admitted that the radio declined to host Dr Besigye because some members of the community were uncomfortable with his being featured on the station. Nr Balaba would not reveal the details behind the decision.
In Moroto, north-eastern Uganda, Nenah FM ran a few of Dr Besigye’s campaign adverts before one of the radio’s directors, Nahaman Ojwe, ordered them off the air. Mr Ojwe happened to be the resident district commissioner of Moroto since 2007.
In Jinja, eastern Uganda, NBS FM took Dr Besigye’s adverts and money but later declined to air the adverts and subsequently returned the money.
NBS FM is owned by Mr Nathan Nabeta, who at the time was the Member of Parliament (MP) for Jinja East constituency on the ticket of the incumbent party, the National Resistance Movement (NRM).
Voice of Teso in Soroti in the northeast and Voice of Busoga in Jinja in the east are both owned by Mike Mukula, who is the NRM vice chairman for eastern Uganda.
Mukula who is the Soroti Municipality NRM MP admitted that his stations had refused to air Dr Besigye’s adverts, arguing that the owner of any business was at liberty to decide whom to do business with.
At Open Gate FM in Mbale, eastern Uganda, the director, Mr Charles Mukhwana, said that while the station was “always open” to all political views, they “were sometimes compelled to consult with the RDC and the security authorities when it came to hosting ‘controversial people’”. This, he said, was because they did not want to clash with the government.
Some NRM Members (MPs, and government workers who own FM radio stations)
|Kinkizi FM||Kanungu||Amama Mbabazi||Prime Minister|
|Rukungiri FM||Rukungiri||Jim Muhwezi||Rujumbura County MP|
|Super FM||Rukungiri||Peter Sematimba|
|Voice of Lango||Lira||Felix Ogong||Dokolo County MP|
|Radio Paidha||Nebbi||Simon D’Ujanga||State Minister for Energy|
|Radio One and Two (Akaboozi Ku Biri)||Kampala||Maria Kiwanuka||Minister of Finance
|Arua One||Arua||Mohammed Omar||Former presidential aide|
|Radio Kitara||Masindi||Ali Kiiza||Museveni’s chief pilot|
|Bunyoro Broadcasting Service||Masindi||Ernest Kiiza||Masindi Municipality MP|
|Rwenzori FM||Kabale||Frank Tumwebaze||Kibaale MP|
|Voice of Bunyoro||Masindi||Kabakumba Matsiko||Minister for Presidency|
|Crane Broadcasting Ltd||Bushenyi||Mary Karooro Okurut||Minister of information and national guidance|
|Radio Ankole||Ntungamo||Mwesigwa Rukutana||Minister for Youth, Labour, Employment & Industrial Relations|
|Radio Endigyito||Kitagwenda||Nulu Byamukama||MP- Kitagwenda|
|Metro FM||Kampala||Edward Babu||Chairman- National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and Former Minister|
|Voice of Teso and Voice of Busoga||Soroti/Jinja||Mike Mukula||MP- Soroti Municipality and NRM vice chairman for eastern Uganda.|
|NBS FM||Jinja||Nathan Nabeta||MP Jinja Municipality East|
The report also documents various measures taken by radio stations before critical speakers are allowed on air.
“At Choice FM in Gulu, northern Uganda, manager Joseph Odwar said that the station was independent but required whoever was to go on air to fill out a form on which the guest indicated what he or she intended to talk about. If approved, the presenter or programme host was then obliged to ensure that the guest did not divert from the commitment made on paper.”
Other radio managers have to consult the RDCs before they agree to let anyone speak on air.
Mr Godfrey Mutabazi, the executive director of regulator Uganda Communications Commission, however, said the political parties did not lodge formal complaints because, “They gave them to the media. In that case we could not take any action because if we do not receive any complaints, there is nothing we can do about it. There is no way we can deal with an issue that has not been formally brought to our attention in writing.”
Mr Mutabazi also said granting of licences is not done based on which political party an applicant belongs to.