Reporters Without Borders today called on the Uganda authorities to rescind the Broadcasting Council’s suspension yesterday of privately-owned radio station KFM’s licence for allegedly failing to respect minimum broadcasting standards.
"Silencing a radio station is a serious action that aggravates problems rather than resolving them," the press freedom organisation said. "Regardless of the charges against a news media or the gravity of the political context, we call on the body that regulates Uganda’s broadcast media to put dialogue before repression and to give journalists a chance to express their views before pronouncing sanctions."
Reporters Without Borders added: "Clearly issued under the impact of President Yoweri Museveni’s threatening comments against the media, this ban on KFM is an extraordinary punitive measure and worries us, and we call on the president to realise that such authoritarian measures undermine democracies."
In its letter yesterday announcing the suspension of KFM’s licence, the Broadcasting Council did not say how long the suspension would last, indicating that this would depend on the outcome of its investigation. The station belongs to the Kenya-based Nation Media Group.
The news agency Reuters quoted information minister Nsaba Buturo as saying the decision was prompted by a programme broadcast on 10 August "that did not meet the minimum broadcasting standards as they are enshrined in our laws."
He was alluding to a discussion programme called "Tonight With Andrew Mwenda Live" in which speakers referred to President Museveni’s threats the day before to close down any news media that acted like "vultures" and "play around with regional security."
The death of former Sudanese rebel leader John Garang when the Uganda presidential helicopter he was travelling in crashed on 31 July, three weeks after he was sworn in as Sudan’s vice-president, caused a stir in Uganda, which declared three days of mourning. Since then the Ugandan media have been abuzz with speculation and conspiracy theories ranging from terrorism and sabotage to an act of war by a foreign army. Even Museveni did not rule out that the crash was "perhaps not" an accident.
The Daily Monitor, which also belongs to the Nation Media Group, protested against KFM’s closure in an editorial today. "We are not infallible and as a responsible media house we are open to suggestions and open to improvement," the editorial said. Stressing support for national and regional security, it called on Museveni to respect the constitution and called on the Broadcasting Council to target its sanctions. "Instead of closing the radio station, the Council could have suspended the ’offending’ programme and initiated talks with the management over acceptable standards," the editorial concluded.