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Three journalists working with Jinja-based Baba FM radio have been suspended indefinitely for hosting opposition politician Dr. Kizza Besigye, Human Rights Network for Journalists – Uganda has confirmed.
The radio station belongs to the Member of Parliament for Jinja Municipality West Moses Balyeku who also doubles as NRM Chairman for the district.
The three journalists told HRNJ that the Station’s General Manager, Michael Kifubangabo imposed an immediate suspension on them because they hosted Forum for Democratic Change leader Dr. Besigye without the knowledge of management.
The suspensions come after Besigye’s scheduled appearance at the political talkshow was cut short after the station owner ordered its switch off 15 minutes into the one-hour programme.
Innocent Anyole who hosted the said program told HRNJ that: “The program ended abruptly just after about 15 minutes into the scheduled one hour duration. It’s the listeners who walked into the studios and informed me that the radio had gone off. The engineers were not aware of what had happened.” Anyole adds: “On 22nd July, 2015, I was suspended indefinitely by my immediate boss, the General Manager, Michael Kifubangabo that I hosted Besigye without the knowledge of management. The suspension was communicated verbally.” Anyole had hosted the show since December 2010.
Two of Anyole’s co-workers, Isabirye Aga David, the Station’s News Editor who sources say was accused of being an opposition sympathizer, and Alton Kasolo –a morning show presenter who they accused of posting on his Facebook wall a pro-opposition material, were also suspended.
Besigye had been hosted along with other Members of Parliament including Dr. Francis Epatait, Geoffrey Ekanya, State Minister for Karamoja Affairs Barbara Nekesa.
Besigye had planned to speak on Baba as part of his countrywide effort to secure the support for his election as the FDC party flag bearer ahead of the 2016 general elections. Besigye is tussling out with the FDC President, Gen. Mugisha Muntu. The ruling NRM party is embroiled in a dispute over whether sitting President Museveni should go unchallenged, since his former ally Amama Mbabazi insists he will challenge him for the flag bearer’s ticket in the coming party’s delegates conference set for early October 2015.
Not all NRM supporters in Jinja have been as intolerant against opposition leaders as Balyeku. On Monday July 20, before Besigye went to Baba, he had successfully held two political shows on NBS fm and KO TV owned by NRM’s Nathan Igeme Nabeta.
Balyeku has been adamant to explain to the media and the general public why he suppressed free speech. And according to HRNJ, Baba FM’s General Manager Michael Kifubangabo has feigned ignorance about the suspensions.
Kifubangabo told HRNJ: “Have you seen their dismissal letter? Have you talked to them? Have they complained that they have been dismissed, or you even handle issues where no one has complained to you? You may be investing something which is non-existent.”
HRNJ national coordinator Robert Ssempala expressed dismay at the decisions taken by Baba FM owners and management saying they go against the roles and expectations of the media including providing a platform for debate in an unbiased manner.
Ssempala said: “This is a sad moment for the media in Uganda. The media is obligated to remain fair and objective, as a way of promoting free debate on National matters of public interest. We believe that the journalists needed to be heard in this matter prior to their suspension. We appeal to the station to re-instate without any stringent conditions.”
Defenders of Freedom of the Media and free speech have cited increased tendencies especially during political campaigns in Uganda, by owners of radio stations, majority of whom are NRM leaning politicians as a threat to freedom of expression, a constitutional obligation and a major tenet of democracy.