On September 30, Member of Parliament for Kyadondo East constituency Robert Kyagulanyi wrote on Facebook; “This morning I was supposed to be hosted by Capital FM for Capital Gang. I was later informed that the radio was directed by Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) and received phone-calls from security operatives not to host me. I was called by other radio and TV stations and they confirmed that they received the same order- with threats that if I am hosted, they risked being closed.”
On 28 September, Mr Kyagulanyi was scheduled to appear on NTV’s political talk show On The Spot, but he didn’t feature, drawing concerns that the ban was in fact in effect. Mr Kyagulanyi is one of the 25 Members of Parliament who were blacklisted by Uganda Communications Commission from appearing on any TV or radio shows. The directive targets legislators who were suspended from Parliament by Speaker Rebecca Kadaga on September 27 for disorderly behaviour at a previous sitting.
The suspended MPs are opposed to a proposal to amend Article 102 (b) of the Constitution which puts 75 years as the cap for presidential candidates. They disrupted parliamentary proceedings by repeatedly singing the National Anthem, chanting and ignoring calls to order. They were suspended and forcibly ejected from the House the next day, amidst fist fights. After the suspension, various media houses received directives from UCC not to host the said MPs.
“What reason do they give for this directive? On what law is it based? If it is because of last week’s events at Parliament, how are they related to what we say in the media? Is Mr Godfrey Mutabazi now the Speaker of Parliament outside Parliament?” Mr Kyagulanyi asked, in reference to the UCC Executive Director.
The directives have left media houses at a loss on how to have balanced debate on the topical issue of the day, which is lifting of the presidential age limit.
Radio One’s Kenneth Lukwago says it is absurd for the State to think that only one side should be heard.
“As a talk show producer, my work entails ensuring that each side is heard for our audience to make an objective decision. It’s on that ground that I have decided not to accord airtime to the NRM pro-Bill side unless I have the other side. We should not as the media be dragged into political disagreements because ours is to serve the public first. We need both sides to empower the public.”
On 26 September, UCC issued a statement directing radio and television stations to stop live broadcasts, a move that drew criticism from the media and human rights advocates. The directive followed live coverage of parliament that day, where several MPs protested a move to include the presentation of a Private Member’s Bill to amend Article 102(b) of the constitution on the order paper.
The broadcast regulator said the media houses were violating minimum broadcast standards by inciting violence among the public and warned that failure to adhere to the ban would attract suspension or revocation of their licences.
In a September 29 letter to UCC, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), condemned the directive stopping media houses from hosting alternate voices, saying it is blatant gagging of the media.
“With respect to the alleged telephone directives received by some of our members, is true, we wish to state that it is highly regrettable and unbecoming of any officer of government to act in such a manner of unaccountable threats and intimidation’’ reads part of the letter signed by the NAB chairman, Mr Kin Kariisa.