- The Ugandan Minister of Information has reopened the Roman Catholic radio station 'Kyoga Veritas FM' after the local broadcaster was accused of airing sensitive information in June. Bishop Erasmus Desderius Wander however still maintains he was right to inform civilians of an LRA rebel offensive in the region.
On 22 June, Ugandan police had raided the offices of the Soroti Catholic Diocese Integrated Development Organisation, where the station is located, and stopped all radio broadcasts. In the days preceding the police raid, 'Kyoga Veritas FM' had broadcast interviews with people affected by the fighting between government troops and the attacking infamous Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). This, police held, was against government orders.
The Ugandan government yesterday informed it had now reopened the radio station in a ceremony in the central-northern town of Soroti, sending its Minister of Information, Nsaba Buturo. "We reopened 'Radio Veritas' on Saturday and asked the management to take up their obligation of informing the public," Minister Buturo informed.
While the Minister told the press in Kampala that the reopening had been "unconditional", his message to Bishop Wander in Soroti had contained a warning. Minister Buturo advised the radio staff "always to consult" with local authorities "before you report a security matter to maintain stability of the country."
Bishop Wandera at the ceremony thanked the Minister for the reopening of his diocese's radio station. He however maintained the June broadcasts on the LRA offensive had been correct and necessary. "We did the right thing to tell the truth about the LRA invasion - that saved so many lives - but this did not auger well with the wish of government," Bishop Wandera told the Kampala daily 'The Monitor'.
'Radio Kyogo Veritas' broadcasts to 14 districts in eastern and northern Uganda. It remains one of the few independent news sources for the war-plagued population in this region.
According to sources in Soroti, Ugandan Minister for Refugees and Disaster Preparedness, Christine Amongin Aporu, at a 17 June security meeting in town, had directed all radio stations in the area to stop airing news or talk shows about the LRA attacks. 'Radio Kyogo Veritas' however went on airing interviews with people affected by the fighting.
Station manager Father Athanasius Mubiru in June told the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that authorities had been particularly angered by a show that featured interviews with people who had been abducted and subsequently released by the LRA.
Because the interviewees said that they had not been mistreated in captivity, government officials accused the station of acting "subversively" and of promoting the rebel cause, according to Mr Mubiru. He further said 'Radio Veritas' was also accused of "sensationalism" for allegedly inciting panic and causing people to flee their homes.
The sudden closure of the radio station and the government orders to ban stations in Soroti from broadcasting any news about LRA rebel activity had caused several international and local media organisations to protest. Groups such as the Paris-based Reporters sans Frontiers lately have stated their concern of the press freedom situation in Uganda.
Minister Buturo meanwhile claimed it was "not the case" that authorities had closed down the radio station to "harass the Catholics," as he maintained "people whose minds are not perfect" had been alleging. It had been over security concerns, he said.
He further announced that his Ministry within short time would invite all radio stations in the country to discuss how to report the war against the LRA rebels. The brutal rebel group has terrorised civilians in Uganda's north since 1988, causing almost one million person to flee their homes.
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