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Uganda media ordered to boost coverage of president

March 27, 2015

Radio and television stations in Uganda were on Friday ordered to provide live coverage of major events involving the country’s veteran President Yoweri Museveni, prompting protests by activists and the opposition.

The Uganda Communications Commission, a state-controlled body, told local broadcasters they were subject to “licensing conditions issued by the commission, whereby all broadcast stations are expected to provide live coverage of major national events and addresses” by the president.

The directive, circulated to media on Friday and seen by AFP, said other events to be covered live included the “pronouncement of (a) national emergency or disaster, security threats or any event… that necessitates the entire public to have simultaneous access to the information.”

The Commission said it will be “monitoring this coverage,” and that “non-compliant stations will be penalised”, without specifying the punishment.

Media rights activists said the order would be challenged.

“This is a draconian directive,” said Geoffrey Ssebaggala, the head of Uganda’s Human Rights Network of Journalists.

“The Commission wants to turn media into a government propaganda. We are in consultations with media houses to reject this directive.”

Ken Lukyamuzi, an opposition leader, said the directive was “absurd”.

“We have always said we are heading for total dictatorship and these directives are part of that,” he said. “Museveni is targeting the media to promote his candidacy with the general elections around the corner”.

Museveni, aged 70 and Uganda’s leader since 1986, has already been chosen as the ruling National Resistance Movement’s (NRM) candidate for presidential elections due in 2016.

It is not the first time the authorities have been at loggerheads with the press.

In June last year the government banned one of the country’s main television stations from covering presidential events after it aired images apparently showing Museveni having a snooze in parliament.

The government accused the station of bias, insisting the president was meditating.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.