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Uganda Media Houses Say Regulator Stifling Space

FILE - Singer turned politician Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine, gestures during a press conference, held at his home in Magere in the outskirts of Kampala, July 24, 2019.

Media houses in Uganda say they are being forced to exclude some sections of the public from making appearances. The claims follow a report by the state regulator, the Uganda Communications Commission, saying some radio and television stations violated the minimum broadcasting standards.

Last week, 13 media houses in Uganda found themselves being investigated by the Uganda Communications Commission.

The UCC said the investigation was sparked by complaints from some security agencies that certain radio and television stations were broadcasting content that violated government standards.

The stations had given live coverage of events surrounding the arrest of musician-turned-politician Bobi Wine, in April and May of this year.

UCC spokesman Ibrahim Bbosa says the media houses need to show why they should not have their licenses revoked.

"There was a fear that some youth were ganging up to attack some key installations of government. There was an allegation that the content was sensationalized. It was extremist in nature. Interviews carried were not factual," he said. "There were interviews that were not guided, you know, somebody is calling for blood. They felt that there was a lack of professionalism.”

The commission said in a new 52-page report that some reporters from Uganda's top television stations — Nation Television Uganda and Nile Broadcasting Services — were taking sides in political debates. It said live coverage of events must be delayed.

Eron Kizza, a lawyer who sought an injunction against the state regulator for demanding that journalists be suspended, says the UCC is seeking to micromanage media houses in Uganda.

“It’s an intrusion into the editorial independence of the media houses. It has a chilling and stifling effect on media freedom," said Kizza. "The media houses know when to delay and if necessary when to delay any live airing and it should be left to them to decide when. You see that the regulator is using its regulatory weight to oppress the media houses who want to include opposition voices in their menu.”

Radio stations were not left out. The UCC is demanding that Pearl FM radio suspend a political talk show, The Inside Story, saying the show could alarm the public and become a platform for fueling political incitement and violence.

Station general manager Nalunkuma Hawa maintains that the show does not violate the minimum broadcasting standards.

“I can’t agree with that, stopping our program, because we do have a lot into that program, Inside story. It’s a factual program; it contains news, current affairs, documentaries. We have those advertisers we’ve got; they need that program to be on air. So UCC coming up and stopping this program, it will be a problem to us," said Hawa.

In a letter Monday, Human Rights Watch warned that the government was targeting political opposition activities and violating basic freedoms of expression and assembly.