Uganda Communications Commissions and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) have agreed to suspend the 39 journalists from 13 media houses that the telecommunications regulator accuses of breaching minimum broadcasting standards.
Last week, UCC ordered seven radio stations and six TV stations to suspend their top editors and producers for alleged violation of minimum broadcasting standards during recent protests over the arrest and detention of Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu also known as Bobi Wine.
Following a meeting at UCC headquarters in Bugolobi today, NAB chairperson Kin Karisa, who is also the proprietor of NBS TV and Pearl FM, some of the accused stations, the broadcasters agreed to suspend the staff for 30 days to allow for UCC investigations. However almost immediately, Nation Media Group (NMG) whose NTV was also ordered to suspend its head of news, progammes manager and producer, until UCC produces more and specific evidence per each accused individual, none of their staff shall be suspended from their current positions.
NMG Uganda general manager, Daniel Kalinaki in an interview with NTV said without UCC stating specific breaches against the head of news, Josephine Karungi and head of programming, Robert Mawerere, it will be extremely hard for the suspension order to be implemented. But for NBS TV, the head of news Joyce Bagala, Chris Wanobere the progammes manager and producer Canary Mugume are to be moved to other departments, according to Karisa.
"So we have resolved that we allow UCC to investigate and we have given them 30 days to come up with results of the investigations. We have also agreed that instead of suspending our staff, we ask them to take up other roles not those specific roles to allow UCC to investigate…They will step aside to allow UCC to investigate." Karisa said.
NMG has a history of defying UCC directives including the previous order in February this year to suspend the Daily Monitor website after it published a court case story against speaker Rebecca Kadaga. Kadaga had been sued by her self-confessed witchdoctor Damian Akuze over failure to clear over Shs 200m for black magic services arrears dating back as far as 1990. Akuze has since withdrawn the case citing death threats against him and his family.
It is not immediately clear if the other accused stations; Akaboozi FM, Beat FM, Capital FM, CBS FM, Radio Sapientia and Radio Simba as well as Bukedde TV, BBS TV, Salt TV and Kingdom TV will implement the new resolution.
The stations are specifically accused of failing to install equipment capable of delaying live broadcast for several minutes in order to edit out content deemed inciting to members of the public or offensive to protected groups of the population.
UCC executive director Godfrey Mutabazi says that the broadcasters have since requested the regulator to conduct separate investigations into the alleged breaches. He says that NAB argued that the stations could have not collectively breached the standards to warrant collective punishment.
"There has been a lot of issues in the broadcasting industry, media industry and we have been writing to them memos, we have been engaging media houses for a period of time...The content that has been coming through is completely different from what they promised to bring. Instead of news items, they bring documentaries, instead of documentaries they bring hate speech, inciting public violence. So those are the kind of things we are looking at. Once we are done with investigations we shall come up with a report and take the necessary action." said Mutabazi.
Mutabazi says that over the next one month, the commission will probe the stations for adherence to broadcasting guidelines drafted by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) itself.
He adds that the investigation will also focus on ascertaining shortfalls of each broadcasting station before they are sanctioned accordingly. He says the new position demands that the affected members of staff step aside to prevent interference with the investigations.
"We don't care whether they [suspended staff] become writers, cameramen so long as they can put in another position…so that we can come and freely investigate." added Mutabazi.
Karisa said broadcasters are required to adhere to the minimum broadcasting standards during the investigations in order to continue normal operations including live broadcasts.
Ibrahim Bbosa, the head of public relations at UCC says the investigation targets all content produced within the last week of April. He says stations which will cooperate, will have their investigations concluded within a few days.