By Rutore Samugabo
Media analysts in Uganda have described as “berserk” the current draconian attacks on the profession by the Museveni regime.
The ongoing campaign of harassment of the Ugandan media by the regime began on the 30th of April. That’s when the Uganda Communications Commission, UCC, issued a letter to the Managing Director of NBS TV.
“The Commission has noted with concern that the nature of content aired on NBS Television, particularly during live programs, breaking news, and main news bulletins does not comply with the minimum broadcasting standards,” said the letter, which was signed by Godfrey Mutabazi the Executive Director of UCC.
Mutabazi went on to outline a string of accusations against the popular TV station, which among other things included, “misrepresentation of information, facts, views and events ‘in a manner likely to cause public alarm’”. Mutabazi further charged that NBS was, “airing extremist or anarchic messages, including ‘incitement of violence for political purposes.’”
The letter went on: “The (NBS) programs are presented in a manner that’s ‘unbalanced’, ‘sensational’, and ‘often give undue prominence to certain individuals, and/or groups of people.” It then goes on to issue what amounts to threats that if in three days NBS does not immediately suspend three of its senior staff – the Producer, Head of News and Head of Programmes – UCC would ‘sanction NBS’.
“It does not take a rocket scientist to understand what that means; it means closing NBS,” said a veteran Kampala journalist that for his safety preferred not to be named. Observers immediately dismissed UCC’s accusations as elaborate and false concoctions whose real aim is to justify shutting down the popular TV.
“Its only crime is to air live Ugandan security forces’ constant harassment, arrests, beatings, tear-gassing and other human rights abuses against opposition leaders like Bobi Wine, Kizza Besigye and their supporters, nothing else,” concluded the journalist.
Museveni’s attacks on the press in the past few years have included shutting down and imprisoning, wholesale, the editorial teams of newspapers whose content has angered, or embarrassed him. That is what happened when Red Pepper, a popular Kampala daily carried the cover headline, “M7 Plotting to overthrow Kagame – Rwanda.”
The state promptly threw all Red Pepper’s senior staff – from the owner and chief editor, down to the copy editor – into Luzira Prison. “It was obvious that Museveni was muzzling the press for reporting facts. Furthermore, subsequent events have proved Red Pepper’s reporting on Museveni’s machinations to be accurate,” remarked a jaded Kampala analyst.
“We really do not know where people get this absolutely false impression that there is ‘freedom of information in Uganda! Museveni quite possibly is one of the worst enemies of media and free speech rights in Africa and beyond,” added the analyst.
Such assessments are borne out by the Ugandan state’s physical violence against journalists, such as was the case with James Akena, a Reuters photographer, last year. The police savagely set upon him with sticks and clobbered him unconscious, because he was photographing protests against the incarceration and torture of Members of Parliament and opposition leaders.
“Let no one ever deceive you that Museveni has ever been for a free media; his “friendliness” to free speech is situational, and subject to his whims, or is dependent upon how he judges what may disadvantage him,” a university journalism lecturer remarked.
The current crackdown and muzzling of the press in Uganda is not confined to NBS. UCC has also ordered the immediate suspension of Salt TV News Editor Ritah Kamya, Producer Frank Rukidi, and Special Programs Director Charles Ssenkubuge. Also under the cosh is BBS TV, which has been ordered to suspend its news editor, producer and head of programming.
According to newspapers like The Observer, the hidden reason behind Museveni’s intensified war on the media is because of its coverage of pro-Bobi Wine – aka MP Robert Kyagulanyi – protests.
“Museveni is seriously scared of what Kyagulanyi stands for; which is that the Ugandan public is thoroughly fed up with him!” another veteran journalist remarked. “In his panic, he will crack down on the media in the most criminal way, to prevent coverage of that which he fears!”
In total UCC has ordered for the suspension of producers, heads of programming and heads of news at four TV stations: NBS, NTV, BBS, and Bukedde. Also affected are seven Radio Stations: Akaboozi, Beat, Capital, CBS, Pearl, Sapientia and Simba.
“Museveni has always been like that and no one should be surprised by actions like what we are seeing now,” said yet another media analyst that preferred not to be named. “In 1996 for example he was going bonkers every time he saw the crowds of (Paulo) Ssemwogerere! Now that he feels the foundations of his regime further crumbling, he is revealing himself once again.”
In Kigali people were astonished to see some Museveni minions, like Winnie Byanyima – whose position even as head of Oxfam has not stopped her from partisan attacks on Rwanda – claim that, “it is a crime in Rwanda to insult Kagame.”
Byanyima’s words, and similar by other pro-Museveni propagandists, were based on a deliberate distortion of anti-defamation laws recently upheld by a Rwandan court. President Kagame himself came out to articulate that he considered would be media insults against him to be civil, not criminal cases.
Really, it is beyond laughable to see these Museveni people ignore the real crimes their master is perpetrating on journalism in Uganda, several Twitter accounts observed.