In Uganda, government shuts down new TV station

New York, February 7, 2007— The Committee to Protect Journalists expressed concern today at the government’s indefinite removal of a new private television station from the air by cutting its use of a state-owned transmitter.

Nation Television Uganda (NTV) went off the air Saturday after officials at the Broadcasting Council (BC), an official media regulator, switched off its transmitter and confiscated its receivers from the mast of the main state-owned antenna in the capital, Kampala, according to local journalists and media reports. BC officials alleged that the station was being put off air indefinitely for “noncompliance of the industry’s technical standards,” according to the same sources. The station had already been shuttered for four days last week after the state broadcaster, the Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC), alleged that the weight of its mast was a “safety risk.”

NTV, which has conducted regular test broadcasts since December 2006, is part of The Nation Media Group, East and Central Africa’s largest and most influential media company. Last year The Nation Media Group-owned newspaper The Monitor’s Web site and affiliated radio station KFM were blocked because sources said they reported a presidential vote tally more favorable to the opposition candidate.

“We are concerned that so-called compliance issues are simply a ruse to shut down an independent television station,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We call on the authorities to return NTV Uganda to the air immediately.”

The 500-foot mast, erected in the 1970s and leased to private broadcasters by UBC, hosts the antennas of seven FM radio stations and two television stations, according to leading independent The Monitor reporter Solomon Muyita. NTV News Manager Betty Bindi today denied the BC’s allegations and told CPJ that her station was in full compliance of all existing regulations.

“Switching off our transmitter does nothing to reduce the weight of the mast, especially if other stations are continuing its use,” Bindi said.

In The Monitor, BC President Godfrey Mutabazi said, “NTV chose to use UBC’s infrastructure for its transmission and we are saying UBC does not have what it takes.” UBC Acting Managing Director Musinguzi Mugasa told the paper that removal of the station from the air was unnecessary. “You don’t have to switch off a broadcaster just because you want to remove dead cabling off the mast…Aren’t the other nine stations on air now?” Mugasa said.

On Saturday, the BC rejected an appeal by NTV and ruled that the station remains off the air indefinitely, according to local journalists.