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Uganda9 January 2004

The authorities begin shutting down around 50 private radio stations.

The Ugandan authorities have started shutting down privately-owned media who have not paid for their operating permits. They have around 50 radio stations in their sites countrywide. Four Kampala-based radio stations and one television station were forced to stop broadcasting on 8 January.

"It is reasonable for a government to get private media to pay for a permit, but this does not justify the wave of closures that has started," said Reporters Without Borders.

"Most of the media involved are not commercial and do not have the means to pay the tax imposed on them. The authorities should show more flexibility and find a compromise that will not bring about the demise of half of the country’s private radio stations."

"It will be the Ugandan people who will suffer the consequences by being deprived of much of their news," said the international press freedom organisation.

The Broadcasting Council, that regulates TV and radio, on 8 January seized the transmitters of four radio stations in the capital (Kampala African Radio, Mama FM, Kampala FM and Top Radio) and from a television station, Top TV.

Dennis Lukaaya, spokesman for the Broadcasting Council said these media had not paid their permits and he estimated that almost half the around 100 radio stations and three TV stations operating in the country were in the same situation.

Private radio stations are supposed to pay an annual state tax of 3 million shillings (about 1,300 euros). Some of them simply do not have the funds. Margaret Sentamu, head of Mama FM told a local daily newspaper that she thought the authorities should make a distinction between commercial radio that broadcasts advertisements and community radio which have no resources of their own.

"It is unfair that the Broadcasting Council should impose the same tax on all media," she added.

The authorities announced that they will continue in the next few days to close media which have not paid up in the country’s interior.

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