Three more broadcast stations, including WBS TV in Masaka District, have been switched off air by the police, bringing to 13 the number of media entities shut down over reported illegal use of Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC) equipment.
The development came following reports that some of the earlier shut down companies had moved to "reconcile" their accounts and clear any unpaid dues to the state broadcaster.
Police Spokesperson Asuman Mugyenyi told this newspaper yesterday that the BBC radio's relay channel in Mbarara District had been turned off, two days after its Kampala relay channel was switched off. The Voice of Africa radio in Masaka was also disconnected, he said.
According to the police, an inspection of masts in Mbarara and Masaka yesterday discovered that the three channels hooked onto electricity supplies of the UBC without formal authorisation. "These companies are supposed to have their own power supplies for their transmitters on the UBC masts and standby generators in case there is no power," Mr Mugyenyi said. "But we found them tapping power which UBC pays for."
The three companies, just like the 10 that were shut down in a space of one week from central and western Uganda, are understood to be clients of the state broadcaster, renting out space on masts where their transmitters have since been hooked. "Some of the radios which were switched off are our clients and some have been coming over to reconcile their accounts with us," UBC Spokesperson Jane Kasumba said.
Asked to explain the sort of reconciliation she meant, Ms Kasumba said: "Some are checking whether they owe the corporation any money and others seek to clear unpaid dues." She declined to say which specific companies had approached UBC but admitted: "It's mainly to do with rent for the masts."
Ms Kasumba said she was not at liberty to discuss the matter of how several stations were able to reportedly tap the state broadcaster's electricity power supplies, only stating: "I think that the Managing Director (Paul Kihika) can answer."
Mr Kihika was unavailable for comment despite repeated calls.
The ongoing police swoop, now part of a full scale investigation into alleged mismanagement and abuse of UBC facilities, kicked off last year with the shutting down of Kings FM in Masindi, a private radio owned by ex-Presidency Minister Kabakumba Masiko. The station was found using facilities of the state broadcaster illegally.
"What we suspect is that some UBC workers were paid to help these companies use these facilities," Mr Mugyenyi said. "This is the first part of the investigation and once we are done, we will approach the employees concerned."