Owing to state pressure, the management of Top Radio and Top TV has banned opposition politicians and other voices critical of government from all its shows and programs.
Also, banned are callers considered to be critical of government. As such, the management of Top radio and Top TV, owned by Pastor Jackson Ssenyonga of the Christian Life Church in Bwaise on the outskirts of Kampala, have had an overhaul of their daily political talk shows.
For instance, panelists on Negwozadde program that were perceived to be critical of the government have been replaced with those that toe the government line. This followed a management decision communicated in an internal memo warning all staff against hosting opposition politicians on any of their programs.
“This memo serves to inform all presenters on both Top radio and Top TV that hosting of opposition politicians and other voices that are critical of the government has been banned,” the November 1 memo partly reads.
The two stations' staff were also stopped from discussing “negative political sentiments.” The presenters are also not supposed to allow callers to attack the government, breach of which will lead to “automatic dismissal” the memo warned.
The Observer understands that the directive was enforced after back-and-forth meetings between the management at Top Radio with Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) officials. This comes against a backdrop of increased violations of media freedoms and crackdowns on media and journalists perceived to be critical of government.
UCC has over the last months, directed various media houses to suspend programs or dismiss presenters/hosts considered critical of government.
Since the tabling of the Constitutional Amendment bill (No.2) 2017 that seeks, among other things, to amend Article 102(b) to scrap the presidential age limits, several radio stations have been subjected to investigations by UCC - with threats of having their licenses revoked over alleged breach of the minimum broadcasting standards.
UCC even banned live coverage of a parliament plenary session in which members of parliament were debating the bill and the nascent protests against the bill allover the country. The ban was only lifted a few weeks later.
Further south in Mbarara, a radio presenter on Endigyito FM James Kasirivu, aka Kasirivu “The Great”, was sacked last month on directives of UCC executive director Godfrey Mutabazi.
In a November 21 letter to the radio’s managing director Nulu Byamukama, Mutabazi claimed that the regulatory body had received numerous complaints regarding Kasirivu’s current affairs show World Express which aired daily from 1pm to 3pm.
“Endigyito radio shall recall that the commission has previously warned your station and the particular presenter over broadcasting content that breaches the minimum broadcasting standards as provided in Section 31 of the [UCC] Act, 2013,” Mutabazi wrote.
In his letter, Mutabazi asked the radio management to submit recording of Kasirivu’s show for the period November 1-20, and also directed that Kasirivu be immediately suspended.
Mutabazi’s directive caused panic at the radio station owned by Byamukama, the former Kitagwenda MP who was also instrumental in popularising former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi’s unsuccessful presidential bid.
Kasirivu was later summoned to the UCC headquarters in Kampala on December 1 and was told that his show had become problematic since it offers a platform to opposition politicians to speak against the age limit bill.
Mutabazi did not attend this particular meeting which, according to Kasirivu, was chaired by a one Paul Mukasa and attended by other officials at UCC who insisted that he explains why he hosts opposition politicians.
"My show is a current affairs program that looks at the topical issues in the news. I don't host anyone. I only speak about the issues in the news before opening the phone lines for the listeners to have their say," Kasirivu told The Observer.
After bringing this out and embarrassing his accusers in the process, UCC asked Kasirivu to excuse himself from issues happening in Uganda.
"They told me that I should instead speak about issues in countries like China," he said.
Eight Red Pepper directors and editors are currently under detention in Luzira prison over a story that run on November 20 titled; 'M7 plotting to overthrow Kagame - Rwanda'.
They were arrested on November 21 and are facing seven counts including; publication of information prejudicial to security, libel and offensive communication.
Previously, Pearl FM had its presenter Sulaiman Kasule suspended. He was presenting a current affairs show called Inside Story. Amama Mbabazi’s Kinkizi FM had a presenter suspended too.