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“Radio content raises call for regulation”
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“Radio content raises call for regulation”

While FM radio choices are growing in number, Badru Walusansa, 26, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Kampala in Uganda, questions the quality of some of the late-night programming they provide.

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 a sense has widened the listeners’ choices. Radio is the most dominant means of communication for the majority of the population, even amidst the growth of social media.

During the day, the programming of most radio stations meets the acceptable standards set by the UCC, which is the regulatory body of the communication sector in Uganda. For instance, listeners are usually fed on news, entertainment, sports, and talk about societal problems (commonly referred to as Ebbaluwa).

However, there is a shift in night-time programming, especially from midnight to 5am. One is left to wonder whether it is a strategic move for some radio stations to air certain content or programmes on the pretext that the regulator is off to bed!

Recently, I did a random survey of what is aired on three local radio stations during late-night hours. The result led me to feel total dismay about the job the regulator is doing.

I will conceal the names of the radio stations, but will, however, describe the content aired, which I found to be misleading for unsuspecting listeners.

The first station hosted a traditional healer, who spoke with confidence about how she could make one rich in just a blink of an eye. Listeners kept calling in and asking for any amount of money from the traditional healer, and the trick was before hanging up and opening your eyes the money would be right in your hands. It’s surprising that the traditional healer could give out money to a tune of 500 million to more than ten callers. What is also disturbing is that she would later instruct the callers to send her 15,000 shillings through mobile money after receipt of the cash bonanza, and on top of that take the received money to her shrine for blessings. What kind of thuggery is better than this? Imagine how many people are robbed of their money through such acts.

On the second radio station I tuned in to, there was a “Ssenga” programme, where 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 through the airwaves. That night, three listeners called in 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 for a warning from the regulator about 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 dominated by collection of money rather than making prophesies for the callers. The pastor would make prophesies only for those who sent him money. Is this supposed to mean that radio stations are conniving with such false prophets, whose agenda is primarily to extort money from the public?

All the above encounters suggest that the UCC is not doing a lot as far as regulating content on radio stations is concerned. However, this has daunting costs for the listeners who are manipulated and exploited by some radio programmes.

The regulatory body should come out with clear guidelines intended to regulate purportedly social and spiritual programmes on radio. We need to see efforts to protect listeners from all sorts of exploitation. Many opine that UCC has outlived its mandate, but as a regulatory body it must ensure that there are no discrepancies cited in its operations. It must exercise 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, feeding people with the right information rather than being tagged as manipulators or conduits of broad day thuggery.

Reach me at badruwalu@gmail.com

Photo credit: Maggie Osterberg Still Life With Internet Radio, Jute 01,2017 via photopin (license)

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About me: I am a human rights activist, academic and writer in the local dailies. I was part of Uganda’s largest election observation group, CEON-Uganda and currently work as a Project Assistant M&E at the Legal Aid Service Providers’ Network (LASPNET). My passion is in writing and I have authored several articles on different topics in the Weekly Observer, Daily Monitor, New Vision and Independent Magazine.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/

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