Ugandan radio stations shut; debate programs banned

New York, September 11, 2009The government-run Uganda Broadcasting Council effectively shut down four radio stations today and Thursday, and ordered all radio stations to halt political debate programming in the wake of violent clashes in the capital, Kampala. 

Violence erupted after the government attempted to block the king of the Baganda ethnic group, Ronald Muwenda Mutebi, from visiting Kayunga county in northern Kampala. At least 10 people were reported killed, according to news reports. The traditional Baganda king holds largely ceremonial powers but has considerable political influence over the Baganda, the country’s largest ethnic group.

The Central Broadcasting Service (CBS), which is owned by the Buganda kingdom, has been off the air since around 6 p.m. local time on Thursday, according to Editor-in-Chief Godfrey Male Busuulwa. The station later learned that Broadcasting Council technicians backed by soldiers had seized transmitting equipment, he said.

Council agents backed by soldiers also raided the studios of Radio Sapientia, a Catholic Church-run station, at noon today, according to its director, Sister Denis Samanya. The station had aired a morning talk show during which callers reacted to Thursday’s deadly riots, she said. A similar raid took place at Radio Two, a community station popularly known as “Akaboozi” according to General Manager Maria Kiwanuka. Both Samanya and Kiwanuka said they had not received notice of any infraction.

Ssuubi FM, a commercial, youth-oriented station, was forced off the air today after a raid by Council technicians and soldiers, according to Managing Director Ahmed Bogere Masembe. The station later received a notice from Council Chairman Mutabasis accusing the station of “inciting the public to violence,” he said. Masembe rejected the accusations, saying the ruling was probably a “mix-up.”

In a statement, the chairman of the Uganda Broadcasting Council, Godfrey Mutabazi, accused the four stations of inciting violence and breaching “minimum broadcasting standards.” Live debate programs, known as “bimeeza,” were banned for what the statement vaguely called “technical” shortcomings. The statement did not make clear how long the stations would be off the air or how long the talk show ban would remain in place.

“The government is employing sweeping measures and making broad assertions to crack down on critical media,” CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Tom Rhodes said. “They’re not fooling anyone.”