Uganda: Radio stations taken off air

On 9 January, in a bizarre move, at least 10 radio stations, including BBC Radio, Radio France International (local relay channels), and the Italian Embassy’s security radio channel were taken off the air by the police in an on-going crackdown over the alleged illegal use of equipment and facilities belonging to state broadcaster, Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC). The radio stations lease relay equipment from the state’s masts, and there is considerable murkiness about how they got access, and whether they are being paid for. It may have cost the broadcaster as much as Shs 392 million (US $163 thousand). This is all amidst the scandal and confusion of the Uganda Broadcasting Companies possibly illegal acquisition of land. Smokescreen maybe?

The police crackdown, which began last year, brings the number of stations switched off the air to 11, and occurrs amidst a general tightening up of the Museveni regime. This month another journalist, Emmanuel Opio, was allegedly beaten up, his camera confiscated and the photos from his camera deleted by a senior police officer. His case has reached the desk of the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC). Additionally, the new Public Order Bill, debated in parliament before Christmas, significantly limits the rights to protest. With Museveni’s increasingly top heavy cabinet of over 70 ministers, some of the lowest annual incomes in the continent, and increasingly tighter control of the country, it’s not looking good.