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Ugandan media group suspends coverage of district chairperson

(HRNJ-Uganda/IFEX) - 26 September 2012 - Media practitioners from Uganda's Kitgum district, under their umbrella body - the Kitgum District Media Practitioners' Association (KIMEPA) - have decided to suspend any coverage of the district chairperson, Luka Nyeko, for his alleged persistent attacks on the media.

In a statement to the media and other stakeholders, dated 19 September 2012, KIMEPA accused Nyeko of attacking Mighty Fire FM, a Kitgum-based radio station. According to KIMEPA, Nyeko accused staff at Mighty Fire FM of engaging in partisan activities and promoting opposition interests in the district. Nyeko also accused the station of being anti-government, courting urban terrorism, inciting violence and causing unnecessary alarm. He threatened radio staff and management with arrest over the alleged crimes.

On 18 September, Nyeko also ordered two journalists out of a review meeting about nodding disease at the district council hall; he did not provide a tangible explanation as to why. The journalists ordered to leave included Stephen Komakech of Mighty Fire FM, and Jimmy Wokorach Oboi, of Vision Group. Oboi doubles as the chairperson of the media association.

Mighty Fire FM is a Christian-founded radio station broadcasting predominantly in Luo. It covers the districts of the Acholi subregion, parts of South Sudan, West Nile, Karamoja and the Lango subregions.

KIMEPA accused Nyeko of persistently using district council sessions and other public events to criminalize the media. "Some of the most salient verbal attacks include, among others: labeling media houses anti-regime [and] accusing the staff of Mighty Fire Radio for courting urban terrorism…."

KIMEPA's vice chairperson, Jimmy Wokorach Oboi told the Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) that they decided to suspend any coverage of Nyeko on 20 September. Oboi said this decision will remain in place until the chairperson unconditionally apologizes to the media practitioners in writing.

However, when contacted by HRNJ-Uganda, Nyeko ruled out giving any such apologies, "I don't have a problem with Might[y] Fire FM, but it seems they have a problem with me. In fact, they are terrorizing the people of Kitgum as a radio. I will never apologize to them. Apologize for what? That's something that is impossible. Let them fight and I will now come out as the district chairman and engage them with full force," Nyeko retorted

Mighty Fire FM's station manager, David Oketch, told HRNJ-Uganda that he did not know why Nyeko was bitter with the radio. "We just don't know what his problem is with us. I think he is not well-versed with media freedoms and practice. We even gave the district free airtime of two hours in our 'Community Hour' program from Monday to Friday, to talk about education, production, business, health and security, but they don't fully utilize it.

HRNJ-Uganda has established that Nyeko asked Mighty Fire FM for copies of its registration certificate, the initial proposal of the radio, its work-plan and budget, a list of all benefactors, the names of all its staff and their qualifications, and the names of its board members, among others. He has also asked for its certificate of membership to KIMEPA. All of these documents will be reviewed at the district security council meeting scheduled for 2 October.

When contacted by HRNJ-Uganda, the Kitgum District Police Commander, Nasur Oringa, dismissed any terrorism incidents in the area, saying that the police have not received any such information or acts of terrorism in the district. He cautioned politicians against using terrorism claims against others without evidence.

HRNJ-Uganda's national coordinator says that "it is dangerous for such a high profile leader to attack the media organizations and individual journalists at public gatherings. It puts the journalists' lives in great danger at the hands of mob justice. Leaders should refrain from making statements that have the potential to incite the public against journalists. HRNJ-U calls upon Mr. Nyekoto withdraw the claims or will be held personally liable for the safety of media practitioners.”

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