19 June 2017

Uganda: Owana Survives UBC Sack but Has Powers Reduced

Photo: The Observer
Mzee Tonny Owana.

Managers at Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC) have clipped the wings of veteran producer and presenter, Mzee Tonny Owana, and sacked the host of his programme, Richard Semakula Gyagenda, in a purge said to target those showing signs of dissent at the national broadcaster.

The Observer has learnt that last week, management of UBC told Gyagenda that his contract had expired and wouldn't be renewed. Gyagenda's relationship with his bosses turned adversarial late in May when he openly sided with Calvin Kalule a.k.a 'Calvin the Entertainer' who was fighting with David Kazoora, who has been contracted to manage a UBC television outlet.

According to our sources, Gyagenda argued that Kalule, and not Kazoora, should have got the Buzz Teeniez Award deal, won by Magic One TV, since he was incharge before the latter took over. Gyagenda later hosted Kalule on his 'Good Morning Uganda' show, rattling his UBC bosses in the process.

The presenter also hosted the suspended UPDF chief political commissar, Col Felix Kulayigye, during another show which discussed the theme 'Who Owns UBC?' This annoyed many managers who decided it was time to clip the wings of both the host (Gyagenda) and his producer (Owana).

Some insiders said Gyagenda's firing was a warning shot to Owana, a harsh critic of UBC management. Subsequently, Owana has been stopped from producing the morning show along with all other political shows.

On April 17, Owana wrote a stinging article in The Observer, titled, NRM will close down UBC, unless... in which he claimed there was mismanagement at UBC. Largely, he wrote about private individuals owning government property and pointed out how a one Shem Katende had replaced UBC-24 with his Channel One, under the guise of providing free content.

Owana also lashed out at Kazoora for allegedly taking over Magic 100 FM and Magic One TV under the pretext of providing content and sharing profits with UBC.

OWANA, UBC BOSS SPEAK

In a telephone interview with The Observer, Owana said he had not been fired but was stopped from producing or hosting any show. He said he wouldn't be surprised if he were fired because there is a storm raging at UBC.

"I don't know if my speaking to you will expedite my being fired. Gyagenda was fired because his contract ended and he was told they would not be renewing it and his services were no longer needed. But I believe his firing was in connection with the programme he did about UBC ownership," Owana said.

Gyagenda couldn't be reached for an interview. In a separate interview at the weekend, the UBC managing director, Winston Agaba, said by telephone that Gyagenda's departure had nothing to do with Mzee Owana because every employee has an individual agreement.

"Gyagenda does many things and if his contract is not renewed, that doesn't mean that he cannot work with UBC. He can produce his own content and bring it and if it is good, it will be aired," said Agaba, adding: "Mzee Owana has a rich history that the country will benefit from and [being stopped from producing the' Good morning' show] was part of the restructuring process. Those are internal issues aimed at restructuring to make UBC competitive."

On the claim that private companies are taking over UBC entities, Agaba responded that the practice is meant to strengthen the broadcaster's programming and revenue streams.

Agaba added that private producers provide content only and that the decision taken by management would boost revenues, which will be used to enhance employees' benefits.

"Change will raffle some feathers but, in the end, I am the one responsible for progress at UBC," he said. "If you do a test signal for two years but you are not generating revenues yet incurring costs, then what is that? We are not a charity."

The instability at UBC over the years has been a persistent concern and in 2016, Information minister Frank Tumwebaze moved to end the chaos. He appointed a seven-member UBC review committee to probe and make recommendations.

Chaired by the African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME) boss Dr Peter Mwesige, the committee found that UBC was struggling with a huge debt, operated in breach of laws and its employees were poorly remunerated.

It thus called for the overhaul of the corporation and firing of some board members since they lacked the required skills to provide effective oversight.

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