Godfrey Mutabazi, the Executive Director of Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), has been in the news for ordering the suspension of 39 journalists from different media houses for allegedly breaching minimum broadcasting standards.
He appeared, and was peppered with questions about his actions on Capital radio’s Capital Gang political talkshow last Saturday hosted by Oscar Ssemweya Musoke. Other panellists included Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda, Ofwono Opondo, Miriam Nanfuka Kasule and Lydia Wanyoto. Baker Batte Lule listened in and brings you an abridged version of his responses
Why is UCC calling for the suspension of journalists?
Together with the National Association of Broadcasters we wrote the regulation. It’s not a UCC document; it’s the industry document where we talk about objectives, like to promote responsible broadcasting; to protect the views from harm, promote impartiality and accuracy, maintenance of law and order, human rights, news reporting, privacy, protection of children from violence, fairness, provide guidance to broadcasters on matters falling within the scope of the standards, among others.
This is a document which every broadcaster is in possession of. Uganda of 42 million people has got 297 FM stations. Kenya has 49 million people and has got 43 FM stations, Tanzania with 57 million people has got only 25 FM stations, Ghana with only 28 million people has got 21 FM stations and Nigeria which has got 190 million has 111 FM stations.
There has been liberalisation and democratisation. We want everyone to access a radio station. We have been here before. We had the scenario of CBS but by the way it’s now the most disciplined station in Uganda.
They don’t have a license...
Don’t worry they have a law to protect them; they are operating within the law. I spoke to them the way I’m speaking to these media houses and they said, ‘no, let’s wait’. The challenge with media houses is that they have been overthrown by personalities. CBS at that time used to bring good speakers at their programme, Ekimeeza.
People would come holding a glass of beer in one hand and a microphone in the other. They would have a good and entertaining programme but completely of no value. I remember I called my colleagues in CBS but they didn’t listen to me and someone else came and took a decision on behalf of UCC.
So, this time we have written a letter to media houses and said, step aside, we didn’t sack anybody and we investigate. This is normal procedure whether you go to France; I heard yesterday (last Friday) the European Union giving us advice and we work with their regulator and we know they are doing the same thing.
But for us (MPs) we investigate people who are in office...
That’s you ...we met NBS yesterday (Last Friday) and they said the people have been deployed elsewhere...We are looking at the content and not individuals. I have been to parliament I have never seen [Kyadondo East MP Robert] Kyagulanyi (Bobi Wine) there.
I see him in pictures but I have never met him. I want to say something about that younger brother... I have never listened to his music sincerely. I know Chameleon... but I wish I could meet him and even listen to his music. But what we are talking about is who is fuelling this rebellion?
When you look at the content for example you see a planned demonstration which goes against this document that we follow.
UCC suspending journalists is an act of bullying; you can sue them because you have that mandate...
We have done this before and we have a right to tell somebody to step aside as we investigate. We are different from other agencies like URA or Nema. We are regulators and all over the world that’s how it works, even those countries that are attacking us that’s what is happening. But they don’t know what’s happening [in their countries] they just come here to attack us.
You have challenged the coverage of opposition politicians, you have not challenged the coverage of NRM politicians...
Why haven’t you asked UBC journalists to step aside over their partisan coverage? That’s all not true. You have to understand the nature of the content of broadcasting. There is no content that doesn’t bear the character of the programmer or editor. Most people watch the news because of your personalities; it’s not the content.
Even a film, when you hear so and so is part of it you go to watch because of the famous actor. Every programme carries a character of a particular person. If I come to investigate you because of deception and you are still in your position and you are the one giving me the information surely I have to audit the IT system. So I would rather ask the person to step aside than close the station.
How long does it take to listen to a one hour broadcast that might have a problem?
We are an agency of government that at times works with sister agencies. Of recent there was a case of deportation of MTN people and what caused that was that these people had communication, which showed they were fighting government.
When we asked MTN in South Africa they said the purpose of those people in Uganda was to do business not to fight the government. We are saying why are you narrowing this matter to only content. Supposing there is other communication behind the scenes that shows there could be another country involved.
If you don’t want us to do that it’s ok, somebody else will do it on our behalf. And that’s what we want to avoid.
Do you think you have an obligation to Ugandans as the CEO of UCC to be truthful?
As a race we have not developed a culture of accountability; me and you who are black. So when these people say they don’t believe Mutabazi it is because we haven’t developed the culture of accountability.
Who is going to put that question to me; is it this guy who is attacking people on the airwaves or this person who is taking money from sponsors or politicians especially now that elections are coming.
There is a gentleman called Tamale Mirundi who is the king of the airwaves and Mutabazi can’t touch him. The other is Ofwono Opondo who threatens every- body and incites violence...he can insult others on radio and on television...
Ofwono Opondo is fairly a good debater but I have personally spoken to Tamale Mirundi and we have suspended him at one time, we even called him to our office and we have solved that matter. If you write to us and report a certain incident we will take action. If this thing gets worse and worse we might end up in the Rwanda situation and these Frenchmen, they jumped on the C130 and they left the Tutsi and Hutus to kill each other.
Your interpretation might be stronger than ours but I have not seen any incitement...
That’s your opinion; my opinion is different from yours and this is a democracy. UCC has been voted the best regulator in Africa. When there was a kidnap in the national park our media was rubbishing Uganda. I was in America but all the Americans were very positive about Uganda and very positive about the way the situation was handled.
Nobody was laughing and doing all sorts of things. Let me come to the opposition, do you know that the opposition work very well with the [government] the reason being that we sit and listen.
There is no country in Africa that has got a more vibrant media like Uganda. Freedom to talk, freedom to insult; people can say anything. But there is no country in Africa where the media can say the things our media say and it’s not shut down. Uganda is also the country with the fastest growing use of social media in this region but when we analysed what they say we realised they were saying a lot of rubbish, hate speech and insults.