Political commentators have described the directive issued by the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) to all radio and television stations in Uganda to broadcast President Yoweri Museveni’s New Year’s message live as a sign of dictatorship.
While President Museveni has been delivering New Year messages since he came to power in 1986, it has not been mandatory for private media houses to broadcast his message live.
In his December 22 letter to all broadcasters in Uganda, however, UCC executive director Godfrey Mutabazi said all broadcasters will be required to allocate President Museveni two hours to deliver his New Year message to Ugandans between 10:00pm and 12:00am. The time has since been changed to 7pm to 9pm in yet another directive dated December 28.
Mwambutsya Ndebesa, a lecturer at Makerere University, describes the directive as a move by the government and President Museveni to do what he calls damage control. He warns that such a move could lead to totalitarian regimes such as Saddam Hussein’s in Iraq and Muammar Gaddafi’s in Libya.
Ndebesa, a member of the Society for Justice and National Unity (SOJNU), a political think-tank based at Makerere University, however, explains that at times such a directive is as a result of sycophancy by cadres in government institutions.
“It could be an enthusiastic cadre of President Museveni by the names of Mutabazi who gave that directive because otherwise to me, they should request media houses to broadcast the president’s new year’s message and not to direct as if it is compulsory,” he says.
He also describes Mutabazi’s actions as mobilization of bias meant to control the public space and to curtail media freedoms.
Dr. William Tayeebwa, the Head of the Department of Journalism and Communication at Makerere University, told this reporter in a phone interview that such a directive rubs a section of citizens the wrong way especially after parliament recently passed a controversial piece of legislation to remove presidential age limits.
Popularly known as the ‘age limit’ bill, the Constitution Amendment (Number 2) Bill was passed 10 days ago ending months of acrimony parliament.
Dr. Tayeebwa argues that UCC should have requested private media houses to broadcast the president’s message instead of giving directives.
However, Kin Kariisa, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Chairperson, says it should be taken as an opportunity by all broadcasters to utilize the president since he is the main source of news in the country. He said the broadcasters’ licenses provided by UCC are obligated to carry such messages without fail.
On why the time for the president’s address was changed from 10pm to 7pm, Kariisa says as NAB they did not want listeners to have divided attention, as other events will be happening. He mentioned fireworks and national prayers among other activities that will be happening around the same time.