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Kinkizi Radio and other FMs are Breaking the Law by banning theBesigye Adverts

By Abbey Kibirige Semuwemba
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Dear readers,

I rarely watch TV or listen to radios unless if there is a football match on but I normally compensate this by watching a lot of Uganda music during my leisure time ,which I find more entertaining than even UK's X-factor or TV shows. However, I was appalled by the report in newspapers recently that indicated that nine radio stations in Uganda had so far refused to run FDC's campaign adverts because the stations are owned by NRM ''big boys''.

The banning of Besigye radio adverts on some private Fm Stations has been a typical NRM character since 1990s, and in all fairness, it shouldn't be part of us anymore as a growing democracy. As some of you may be aware, 1n 1993, the government stopped government offices from giving any advertisement business to the Monitor newspaper, just because they wanted to run it down, which some in the NRM call 'dying naturally due to mismanagement'. The monitor lost about 70% of its advertisement revenue till when this decision was reversed in 1997. So this business of saying its 'free will' for those stations that ban Besigye adverts is a non- starter. We should encourage radio owners to contribute to the fairness of these elections by according the two biggest candidates the same level of exposure to the voters as much as possible. There is no harm in this as long as they are not breaking any laws in the process.

Radio discrimination by private owners has got no place in a proper democracy. There are certain standards expected of private radio owners, and therefore what Amama Mbabazi's Kinkizi fm and others are doing is proper discrimination. It's like opening up a private shop and deciding to sell goods only to a certain tribe as the Asians reportedly used to do before Amin expelled them in early 1970s.

All these forms of discriminations by private enterprises should not appear to be promoted by the political elites in our country as is the case with Ofwono Opondo doing exactly this in an NTV YouTube video released a few days ago . To my surprise, the chairman of the Electoral Commission,Dr.Badru Kiggundu, who is always assumed to be on the government side, appears to be also disagreeing with what these private stations are doing. The fact is that we should cherish and guard the right of free speech in Uganda. We know NRM does not love it when they put up with people saying things they absolutely deplore but we must always be willing to defend people's right to say things we deplore to the ultimate degree. That is the way forward!

In USA, they have got the ''fairness doctrine'' introduced I believe in 1940s and it requires broadcasters to cover important controversial issues and to provide an opportunity for contrasting views on those issues. The rules state that radio or TV stations that sell air time to a political advocate must give free air time to an opponent to respond. This was rectified by the ''Cullman Doctrine'' in 1960s which holds that a station broadcasting a sponsored advertisement or program on one side of a controversial issue thereafter may not refuse to present the opposing viewpoint merely because the station could not obtain paid sponsorship for the opposition presentation. The Americans have also got the 'equal time' rule which requires radios and TVs to give equal time to qualified candidates for public office.

What Ofwono Opondo was talking about in the video of radios or newspapers endorsing candidates in developed nations, is true, but it has got no relevance to the radio discrimination going on in Uganda at the moment. By the way, even newspapers that have endorsed candidates are required by law to give space to the opposing views in these countries. For instance, in the UK here, the Daily Mail is a known Conservative newspaper but it always finds space for the Labour candidates because the law requires them to do so. Please, Let us stop promoting wrong things because Uganda does not end in 2011. President Museveni will one day be history but Uganda will remain.

Finally, the state should start taking their Access to Information Act (2005) seriously to help bridge the gap between the government and Ugandans. Any information from government and non-governmental organisations should be made public to avoid more surprises. This encourages openness and transparency in public institutions. For instance, here in the UK, we have got the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and Data Protection Act 1998 under the office of the Information Commissioner who reports directly to the parliament, and it is helping everybody. I have got as much right to know how any ministry is being run as anybody else in the country. Of course, they are some exemptions, but most of this information is not concealed to anybody in the UK. This should be the same in Uganda as it will also help in reducing the levels of corruption in the state system.There is no point carrying out all this public enquiries into the deaths of big personalities and now we are doing the same with the burning of the Kasubi tombs issue, but the public never gets to know what is found out. We should have transparency in government dealings everywhere or we gonna have an 'American Assange' in Uganda doing a wikileaks for us one day.

Abbey Kibirige Semuwemba
United Kingdom