PRECEDENT; REGULATOR SUSPENDS BROADCASTING STAFF

The legal advice in a statement from the Uganda Law Society suggests that regulators like UCC lack legal mandate to order the suspension of irresponsible news managers. The court case of Kalundi Robert Serumaga dismissed such views. How do we reconcile such legal advice with a previous court decision?

Radio talk show host Kalundi Robert Serumaga (Radio One) and Godfrey Ssebagala (Radio Sapientia) sued the then Broadcasting Council in a case brought before the Hon Justice Benjamin Kabiito in MISC CAUSE NO. 221 of 2009 in the high court of Uganda-Civil division.
Robert Serumaga was arrested on the night of Friday 11th September 2009 after participating in a live television talk show on the then WBS, in Naguru, hosted by Peter Kibazo on a popular show dubbed “Kibazo on Friday”. While Serumaga was not to blame for the violence, his remarks were perceived as intended to fuel the political violence.

He was arrested and detained and later charged with sedition at Buganda Road court. Upon Serumaga’s release, he went to his workplace at Radio One where he found a letter from the then Chairperson of the Broadcasting Council, Godfrey Mutabazi instructing the General Manager of the television not to allow Serumaga to host, present or moderate any programme because of the charges of incitement of violence pending before him.

Serumaga went to court and challenged the decision of the then chairperson of the Broadcasting Council which was merged to form the Uganda Communications Commission, suspending them from broadcasting and demanding that the decision be quashed for being contrary to the law and being issued without authority. They demanded;

– That an Order of prohibition to be granted to the effect that the decision is prohibited from taking effect.

– That the decision was an act of abuse of office and contrary to the Leadership Code Act.

– That the act of suspending the applicants from broadcasting was an act in the purported discipline of a journalist and therefore was an act done without authority.

– That the chairperson of the Broadcasting Council did not have powers to discipline journalists.

– That the act of suspending or causing the suspension of Kalundi Robert Serumaga and Godfrey Ssebagala from employment in their respective media houses was illegal and unconstitutional for failure to accord the applicants an opportunity to be heard.

– That the suspension of the applicants caused loss and benefits of employment.

– That the suspension of the journalists was a breach of the freedom of expression guaranteed in Article 29 of the Constitution.

– That the Honourable court awards general damages to the applicants

– That the applicants be awarded costs of the application.
 
Prosecution

The prosecution said statements uttered by Serumaga intended to bring hatred, contempt & to excite disaffection against the person of President.

Judgement

The Hon. Justice Benjamin Kabiito ruled that;
The actions to direct for the suspension of Mr Kalundi Robert Serumaga were done in conformity to the provisions of the law as the respondent had the powers to make such a directive to the proprietor of the radio station in question if the circumstances so required.

The utterance of words that could have a seditious intent and the incitement to violence especially if communicated on the airwaves of a radio station that has the capacity to reach a large section of the population, of this country, is a serious matter for national security, public order and tranquillity, and it would be a matter that had to be investigated in the public interest by the security agencies.

In his view, the chairperson of the Broadcasting Council was justified to direct the Radio station that employed Mr Kalundi Robert Serumaga to suspend him pending police investigations into the allegation of incitement mode.

It was noted thus in a matter of similar circumstances. “…. It is a case in which national security is involved, and our history shows that, when the state itself is endangered, our cherished freedoms may have to take a second place, Even natural justice itself may suffer a setback.”

In the result, the application was dismissed with costs to the respondents….

IN THE HIGH COURT OF UGANDA AT KAMPALA, (CIVIL DIVISION)
MISC CAUSE NO. 221 OF 2009

Therefore, programmes should not contain content that:- Misrepresents information, views, facts and events in a manner likely to mislead or cause alarm to the public. Has extremist or anarchic messages, including incitement of violence for political and other purposes. Incites the public against other members of the public based on their political, religious, cultural and tribal affiliations which is likely to create public insecurity or violence.

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