Last week, Uganda’s media regulatory body, the Ugandan Communications Commission (UCC), accused 13 radio and television stations of violating broadcasting standards over their coverage of opposition groups. It directed five of the media outlets to explain why their licenses should not be suspended, cautioned several others, and suspended a radio show.
In April 2019, all 13 stations had aired news reports covering the arrest of opposition leader Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine, and members of other opposition groups. At the time, the UCC ordered the stations to suspend their staff as the government investigated the alleged breaches of minimum broadcasting standards.
The UCC said its investigations were prompted by allegations in late April by the Uganda Police Force and other security agencies that media coverage of opposition activities and altercations between protesters and security agencies were biased and intended to rile up the public and created the impression that the country was “descending into chaos.”
This is just the latest example of the authorities targeting political opposition activities.
Also last week, police cancelled a planned concert for independence day by Kyagulanyi, who was a pop star before becoming a politician, saying the event posed a security risk. Then police surrounded his home to block him from leaving.
In September, police blocked Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) rallies in Lira, Kasese, and Mbale, where they arrested FDC president Partick Oboi Amuriat and three others, claiming the party had failed to obtain clearance to hold the rallies.
Last April, radio stations in Lira district said they had been warned against hosting Dr. Kizza Besigye and other members of the FDC. Police stopped Besigye from appearing on radio three times.
In February, the UCC ordered the Daily Monitor, an independent newspaper, to shut down its website after the speaker of parliament claimed the newspaper published misleading information. The Daily Monitor took down the article but did not shut down its website.
Restrictions that target peaceful political speech and activities violate basic freedoms of expression and assembly and the right of Ugandans to access information about what is happening in their country. The authorities should stop targeting media for giving airtime to political opponents or critics with dissenting views.