Liberalisation of media in Uganda is responsible for the increased number of FM radio stations. According to the Uganda Communication Commission (UCC)2015 report, there were 292 operational FM radio stations spread all over the country, which in its sense, has widened the listeners’ choices. Still, radio is the most dominant means of communication to majority of the population even amidst the increasing social media outburst.
During the day programming of most radio stations is made, in such away, that it suits the acceptable standards set by UCC-the regulatory body of the communication sector in Uganda. For instance, listeners are usually fed on news, entertainment, sports, societal problems (Commonly referred to as Ebbaluwa), among others. However, there is a shift in night-time programming especially in the late hours (12am to 5am) and as such one is left to wonder whether it is a strategic move for some radio stations to air out certain content or programmes in the pretext that the regulator is off to bed.
Recently, I made a random survey on what is aired out on three local radio stations between the above mentioned hours and to my total dismay I doubt whether the regulator is doing the job right. I will conceal the names of the radio stations for purposes of their image but will, however, stick to the content aired out which I find misleading to the unsuspecting listeners. The first radio station hosted a traditional healer who spoke with confidence how she could make one rich in just a blink of an eye. Listeners kept on calling in and asking for any amount of money from the traditional healer and the trick was before hanging up and opening eyes the money would be right in one’s hands. It’s, however, surprising that the traditional healer could purport to give out money to a tune of five hundred million to more than ten callers.
What is also disturbing is that she would later instruct the callers to send her Shs15,000 through mobile money after receipt of her cash bonanza and on top of that take back the received money to her shrine for blessings. Surely what kind of thuggery is better than this? Imagine how many people are robbed of their money through such kind of sorcery acts. If you could as well dig deeper you would find out that such programmes on these radio stations are stage managed and the rationale in them is to delude peoples’ minds so that they are robbed clean.
On the second radio station I tuned into there was a Ssenga programme and listeners frequently called in to seek information about their marriage and sexual related problems.
Although such programmes are most suitable to be aired during late hours, they have been hijacked by unprofessional people who masquerade as Ssengas for purposes of robbing listeners with the aid of the airwaves. About three listeners called in that programme and decried having been robbed of their money as they went to access services from that particular Ssenga, however, the moderator kept on diverting the callers’ complaints. Do radio stations censor such programmes or they are simply waiting until the regulator pats their backs to remind them of the operating guidelines?
When I tuned into the third radio station I found there a pastor who fits the true description of a false prophet. He was no different from the earlier encounters, his programme was purely dominated by collection of money than making prophesies for the callers. The pastor almost read his mobile number throughout the programme on account that he would make prophesies for only those that sent him money. Does this mean that radio stations are usually in connivance with such false prophets whose agenda is to primarily extort money from the public? All the above encounters suggest that UCC is not doing a lot in as far as regulating content on radio stations is concerned. However, this has daunting costs on the listeners and thus manipulates them hence the dire need to protect them from being exploited by the content aired on radio.
Previously, UCC has heavily invested efforts in regulating political content aired out on radio stations to the extent of banning certain presenters and/or show hosts from appearing on different programmes that are presumed contrary to the views of government. However, it’s doing less on the social and spiritual content on the same radio stations. Therefore, the regulatory body should come out with clear guidelines intended to regulate such.
We need to see the same momentum used in regulating political programmes apply elsewhere in order to protect listeners from all sorts of exploitation. As many still opine that UCC has outlived its mandate and only serves the interests of the regime, as a regulatory body, it must ensure that there are no discrepancies cited in its operations lest it will continue to be dubbed as a regime tool.
Therefore, it must do a lot in terms of exercising its mandate by remaining proactive, non-partisan, protective and mindful of what the public consumes. Self-censorship in programming should also be strengthened to ensure that radio stations remain relevant to feeding people with the right information than being tagged as manipulators or conduits of broad day thuggery.
Mr Badru Walusansa is a Commonwealth Correspondent for Uganda