With only few hours to commemorate the World Press Freedom Day, media houses and journalists in Uganda may have little or nothing to celebrate about.
This is because the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has directed the suspension of producers, head of News and head of Programmes in seven radio and six television stations.
The UCC order is expected to take effect immediately pending investigations.
The affected television stations are Akaboozi, BBS, Bukedde, Kingdom, NBS, NTV, and Salt. The radio stations are Beat FM, Capital, CBS, Pearl, Sapientia, and Simba FM.
The directive was released on Wednesday May 1, on the UCC’s blog on a day workers worldwide celebrate the International Labour Day.
Whilst UCC claims the move comes after concerns were raised on the nature of content on the affected media stations, reports indicate that the sanctions were as a result of their live coverage of the arrest of Kyadondo East member of Parliament, Robert Kyagulanyi, popularly known as Bobi Wine.
The media regulator accuses the broadcast stations of misrepresenting information with the intent to alarm the public and incite violence through extremist or archaic messages.
The agency also faults the media houses for largely inciting the public against other members of the public based on their political, religious, cultural and tribal affiliations in a manner likely to create public insecurity or violence.
UCC said that the affected stations had previously been warned from engaging in such practice but they refused to heed to warnings issued to them. It therefore termed their actions as a breach of the minimum broadcasting standards as per the Uganda Communications Act.
“In exercise of its mandate, the Commission has commenced full investigations to determine whether/or not the manner in which the above broadcasters present live programmes and news stories is in accordance with the expected standards and codes of ethics of journalism,” UCC said.
Besides the suspension, UCC wants the affected media houses to submit to the Commission the names, particulars and qualifications of the subject office holders.
The broadcast stations have also been asked to submit recordings of all live programmes and news bulletins aired on Monday, April 29.
The directives are supposed to be complied with as of May 4 or else face stiffer penalties.
“If and when a broadcasting station fails or otherwise refuses to comply with any of the above directives, the Commission shall proceed to determine this issue and pass regulatory sanctions in accordance with Section 41 of the Uganda Communications Act,” UCC warned.
On Monday, broadcasters aired live proceedings of the Bobi Wine's court case where he was charged with disobedience of statutory duty, an offence, an allegedly illegal protest, he committed in July 2018.
When asked if he had anything to tell the court before he was detained, Mr Wine said: "Your honour thank you for this opportunity. I'm confident because indeed it's not me on trial; It's the court itself on trial. I have not committed any crime. I'm only here because I disagree with the political leadership of this country and in particular President Museveni. But my spirit is confident because I'm here not because I've stolen public funds or killed somebody. I'm glad that I'm here because I'm fighting for them, you (magistrate) and everybody in this country. I'm here for protesting against unfair taxation and injustice. So if I'm to go through this oppression and pain for the betterment of my country so be it. At least I know that history will absolve me."
The politician-cum-musician has been a critic of President Yoweri Museveni, who has been at the helm of the country for the last 33 years.
The 37-year-old opposition MP, who hinted that he may run for presidency in the 2021 elections, has been previously charged with holding an illegal public assembly.
He was arrested on Monday on his way to answer to summons at the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) offices. He was charged in court and remanded to Luzira Prison.
The new development has put the Ugandan government on the spotlight on its vicious campaign to gag media freedom as well as deny politicians from the opposition media space across the country.
Just recently, the main opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) officials were reportedly ejected from some radio stations, while others refused to host them citing threats by the security forces.
World Press Freedom is to be commemorated on Friday, May 3.