Uganda Media Environment







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Media Environment and Regulation in Uganda

Uganda has a broad and diverse broadcast media environment. There are a large number of outlets willing to criticize the government and offer a variety of viewpoints. There are also media outlets that are owned by government officials and are seen as sympathetic to the governing political party. The state-run Uganda Broadcasting Corporation is seen by some political rights and press advocacy groups as also sympathetic to the government. However, the state-run print media, including the popular newspaper New Vision, are seen as being more objective despite their editorial boards being appointed by government officials.[1]

The Ugandan constitution provides for the freedom of expression but legislation such as the 2002 Anti-Terrorism Act and the Press and Media Law of 1995 have been used to restrain this constitutional right. The Press and Media Law require journalists to be licensed and meet certain standards such as the possession of a diploma in journalism. Under the Anti-Terrorism act, the government has used security agents to detain and question several opposition politicians, some civil society members and journalists. For example, in December 2009 the investigative journalist Angelo Izama of the independent Daily Monitor was summoned and interrogated three times over accusations of libeling President Yoweri Museveni. The offending article reported on the growing concern that the 2011 presidential and parliamentary elections might be marred by violence. The day after the article was published, President Museveni was quoted as saying, “These people of the Monitor, I am going to deal with them if they don’t change their ways”. Incidents of intimidation such as this one often result in journalists instituting self-censorship. [2]

Another significant incident that took place in 2009 was the shuttering of four radio stations on charges of inciting violence. The closures followed violent clashes in Kampala on the 10 and 11 September between security forces and supporters of King Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II of the Baganda, the majority ethnic group in the capital, after the authorities made it difficult for the king’s aides to organize a royal visit to a northeastern district in the city. On 11 September, the information minister Kabakumba Matsiko announced the suspension of three privately-owned radio stations– Suubi FM, Radio Sapienta and Radio Two Akaboozi Kubiri –for inciting these riots and “criminal mobs engaged in acts of theft, violence against persons, and destruction of property.” The previous evening authorities closed CBS, a station owned by the Kingdom of Buganda.[3]

In addition to the closing of these stations, the government also placed a ban on live radio debate programs, known as “ebimeeza,” on the grounds that the radio stations were unable to control their content. Authorities enforced this ban by arresting Radio One talk-show personality Sermuga, who hosts a daily 7 p.m. talk show. On 11 September, Serumaga was arrested outside the office of WBS television after participating in a television debate in which he criticized President Museveni. Media watchdog groups such as Reporters Sans Frontieres rejected the government’s claims and condemned its actions against the radio stations and other radio personalities. [4]

On the positive side, Uganda is only one of three countries in Africa that have a freedom of information law. Unfortunately, the governing administration of President Museveni has continued to delay putting regulations in place so that journalists and concerned citizens can gain access to information. [5]

Radio is Uganda’s most influential communication medium, as it has the broadest broadcast reach and is the most consumed media format. There are nearly 200 functioning FM broadcast radio stations and an additional 32 are licensed but not transmitting. The radio market is regionally-based- only radio stations of the state-run Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC) transmit nationally. Despite the lack of national stations, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) says there is an average of 2 radio services that can be received in each district or city. Uganda’s radio market first began to blossom in 1993 when the government finally loosened its control over licensing. [6]

Uganda’s television industry is comparatively much weaker. The market comprises 35 functioning TV channels plus 15 non-functioning licensed stations. The cost of a television, however, has placed home access out of reach for most Ugandans. In addition, TV reception is notoriously poor in areas outside of urban areas. [7]

Uganda’s newsprint industry, on the hand, is vibrant and is an important source of political information. The two leading national daily newspapers are the aforementioned New Vision and the privately-owned Daily Monitor, both of which publish in English.

The New Vision is the largest paper and is controlled by the New Vision Printing and Publishing Company Ltd (NVPPCL), in which the Ugandan government owns a controlling stake. It also has sister newspapers in local languages – Rupiny, Etop, Bukedde and Orumuri – which publish in Luo, Ateso, Luganda and Runyakitara, respectively. Outside the government, sources of advertising revenue are limited for newspapers, and they often rely on advertising for breweries and mobile phone service providers. This lack of revenue diversity is a major inhibitor to growth in the industry. The print industry is seen generally as having better quality reporting compared to radio and television. They are seen as being more balanced and as attempting to try to appeal to the interests of all parts of society. [8]

[1] “Map of Press Freedom-Uganda”. Freedom House. Washington, D.C. Accessed January 2010. and “Media Sustainability Index (MSI) Africa-Uganda”. International Research and Exchanges Board. Washington, D.C. Accessed January 2010.

[2] “Newspaper reporter harassed by police for allegedly libelling President Museveni”. Reporters Sans Frontieres. 30 December 2009. Accessed January 2010.

[3] “Four radio stations closed and a talk-show host detained for "inciting riots". Reporters Sans Frontieres. 13 September 2009. Paris, France.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Media Sustainability Index (MSI) Africa-Uganda.

[6] “Rural Communications Development Policy for Uganda”. Uganda Communications Commission. Kampala, Uganda. January 2009. Accessed January 2010.

[7] Ibid.

[8] “Uganda AMDI research report -Newspapers”. Africa Media Initiative. BBC World Service Trust. London, UK. Accessed January 2010.