HOIMA, 30th /May 2017; Radio Hoima, in Western Uganda, was last night switched back on air by the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) after paying two million shillings (US$ 550). The radio was arbitrarily switched off air for allegedly broadcasting sectarian statements.
“We were directed to appear before UCC within 60 days. Yesterday I went with my director, met with the Executive Director, Eng. Godfrey Mutabazi, and with four other directors from 10am to 12pm. We presented our case and they realised that they had no case against us,” Yorakamu Bamwenda, Hoima radio manager, told HRNJ-Uganda today.
He said they were directed to pay two million shillings as a reconnection fee, after which the radio was switched on again. “We are back on air and we are calling on all our workers to return to work,” Bamwenda said.
On Saturday night 27th /May/2017, UCC switched off the radio without prior warning to the management and owners. The regulator later sent a letter dated 25th May 2017 notifying the manager about the suspension of their broadcasting licence pending further investigations. The Commission claimed that “ it has received numerous complaints about the content of some of the programs being broadcast on Radio Hoima.” The letter further claimed that the radio was hosting a group known as BUKITEREPA who utter “sectarian, inciteful” statements and promote ethnic prejudice. The radio management was given 60 days to report to the Commission to defend itself, with failure to do so meaning the Commission “shall proceed to commence revocation of the radio broadcasting licence….”
However, the radio owners were not told who the complainants were, according to the manager. “I gave them our side of the story about the statements and told them they were not broadcast on our radio–it was another station. They did not tell us who the complainants were on this matter,” Bamwenda told HRNJ-Uganda. He said the statements they accused the station of were brought by the Resident District Commissioner, Regional Police Commander, District Police Commander and the Community Liaison Officer who wanted airtime to respond to the statement aired on another radio.
“The actions of UCC to switch off the radio for three days without prior notice and levy a fine of two million shillings were heavy-handed and punitive. It was an infringement on the citizens’ rights to access information given that many citizens depend on the radio for information. The regulator should have listened to both sides before switching off the radio. This situation raises serious concerns regarding the due process of switching off a broadcasting station and the powers of UCC,” said the HRNJ-Uganda National Coordinator Robert Ssempala.