Suspended radio station is allowed back on air

New York, August 19, 2005—Independent radio station KFM was allowed back on the air Thursday after paying a fine of 4.95 million Ugandan shillings (US$2,700) for allegedly violating minimum broadcast standards, according to the station’s managing director. KFM had been closed for a week over on-air remarks by talk show host Andrew Mwenda, who blamed Ugandan government negligence for the July helicopter crash that killed southern Sudanese leader John Garang. Mwenda, who spent three days in jail, has been charged with sedition.

The fine was officially termed payment of “costs” to the Broadcasting Council for a nine-page ruling, which contained conditions and non-binding advice for the reopening of the station. Binding conditions included the fine and the implementation of new, KFM internal guidelines for the Andrew Mwenda Live show, according to the station’s managing director Conrad Nkutu.

“The ruling reflected the best we could get out of difficult negotiations,” Nkutu told CPJ today. “We were able to avoid the loss of the Andrew Mwenda Live talk show and the forced issuance of an incriminating apology. We didn’t compromise any journalistic principles. We are happy to be back on air, but we feel that the environment is hostile to press freedom.”

KFM is owned by Monitor Publications. The company also owns The Monitor newspaper, for which Mwenda is a political editor. The station was suspended after President Yoweri Museveni threatened to close any news outlet that “plays around with regional security.”

“We welcome the reopening of KFM, but we’re deeply concerned about the ongoing threats to press freedom in Uganda,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “The Ugandan government’s targeting of Andrew Mwenda and the criminal charges still pending against him send a chilling signal to all of the independent media.”