Four months ago, after COVID 19 spread to Uganda, the media industry all of a sudden became a darling of Government. In fact, President Yoweri Museveni declared the media industry an essential service.
But as political campaigns kicked early this month in preparation for the 2021 general elections the cozy relationship between the Fourth Estate and Government has disappeared.
This month alone more than half a dozen journalists have been pulled out of their stations and dumped in police cells on charges of sectarianism, incitement, cybercrimes etc.
Police recently arrested the programs director of Baba FM Twahir Ddamulira and five others and detained them at Nalufenya police post.
According to Hussein Ibanda aka Swengere, they were accused of hosting Bobi Wine and supporting the People Power movement. He said police hinted on arresting more Baba FM presenters. The presenters who face arrest include; Kalyowa Atanansi, Hussein Ibanda, Kasolo Alton and Namulondo Zakia aka Mama Kalibbala. Swengere was summoned to appear before Jinja central police station (CPS) over charges of disobeying lawful orders and inciting violence.
Swengere revealed that Mama Kalibbala is wanted because Bobi Wine mentioned her name during the show.
He assumes that Kalyowa Atanansi is wanted for hosting Bobi Wine, Hassan Muwanga for sitting in the studio when Bobi Wine is being hosted, Kasolo Alton for standing for the Jinja City mayor on support of Bobi Wine and People Power, Swengere for driving Bobi Wine after the show and Ayub Khan for supporting Bobi Wine.
Most recently, veteran talk show host, Basajjamivule was also picked from Baba TV offices in Ntinda where he hosts a morning show called ‘Fumintiriza.’ The Police Crime Intelligence officers picked up senior journalist Basajja Mivule and was led to a waiting van by armed officers, and driven off to an unknown place.
Police spokesman Fred Enanga said Muvule had been “recording and spreading videos which promote sectarianism.” He added that these videos were being scrutinized and that the journalist would be charged accordingly.
In one of the videos he posted on Facebook just hours before his arrest, Mivule said he hated “these people” because they were doing the same things that dictators Idi Amin and Milton Obote were doing.
In another video, he said government should come out and comment on the concerns about nepotism that are emerging among Ugandans.
Basajjamivule’s arrest followed similar arrest of four other media practitioners who through comedy transmit political messages pointing out government excesses.
The four comedians usually act dressed in church choir gowns, and call themselves Bizonto (the deranged). In a parody-style skit they acted recently and went viral on different social media platforms the comedians named 12 most influential leaders in the country and of those 11 are from western Uganda.
They said that those individuals determine what happens in Uganda and they will have a big say on who wins the forthcoming election. They listed President Museveni, Chief of Defence Forces Gen David Muhoozi, and Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, the senior presidential advisor on special operations.
The others are: Bank of Uganda Governor Tumusiime Mutebile, Ministry of Finance Permanent Secretary Keith Muhakanizi, Commissioner General of Prisons Dr Johnson Byabashaija, Minister of Security Gen Elly Tumwine, Internal Security Organisation boss Col Bagyenda Kaka, Chief of Military Intelligence Maj Gen Abel Kandiho, commander of the Special Forces Command Maj Gen James Birungi, and the Electoral Commission chairperson, Mr Simon Byabakama.
When it came to the police force, the comedians pointed out its head, Mr Martins Okoth-Ochola, but were quick to add that Maj Gen Sabiiti Muzeeyi, the deputy Inspector General of Police, was very influential in decision making within the Force.
Security operatives later picked the Bizonto gang from their Bukoto work place (Radio Simba) in a very dramatic operation.
Early this month, the Minister of Information and National guidance, Judith Nabakooba, warned that some media organizations were using their air time to host politicians whose message promotes hate as well as misinforming the public.
Upon the arrest of Bizonto, the Media Center Executive Director Ofwono Opondo reiterated the Minister’s position warning both media practitioners and politicians that government would contain all those promoting sectarianism.
“We don’t want to go down a path our neighbors have gone, especially with no specific proof. We want to implore you the media, and the politicians that the government is going to be very decisive, very firm with anyone resurrecting sectarianism tendencies,” Ofwono Opondo said.
Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) followed up Opondo’s warning by demanding that all radio stations submit fresh applications claiming that the current regime is outdated and out of touch with new realities.
According to Acting Executive Director of UCC Irene Kaggwa Ssewankambo the new licensing framework, all radio broadcasters in Uganda are required to submit fresh applications for radio broadcasting licenses of their choice by July 31, 2020.
However, existing operators will not be charged license application fees and initial entry fees for the respective licenses they apply for. They will only pay for the applicable license fees.
In addition to providing for different license fees for commercial and communal broadcasting services, the new framework also provides for a five-year license as opposed to the previous one, which was only valid for one year.
The political journey to 2021 elections appears to be murky for media practioners even though government and the Electoral Commission have declared the media as the only platform for political campaigns to be able to control the spread of coronavirus pandemic.