MBALE – A visit to rural Mbale in Bugisu sub-region on Saturday will make many think the rural citizens have gone on a holiday.
In every compound, you notice people glued to their small radios listening to political debates on how their Members of Parliament are doing, how the district leadership is corrupt, how the government is corrupt, which way forward for the country etc.
Even when the educated have access to newspapers in the nearest trading centres, have Television sets, they will sit at home to listen to local media [radio].
Rajab Mukuwa is entitled to a free news paper of his choice daily from his daughter but he has had to abandon a news paper for his old transistor radio to listen to local political debates from various local stations in Mbale.
When PML Daily reaches him at his home, he proudly says he has lost several items in his itinerant existence but no matter where he has been, his transistor radio bought in 1987 has always accompanied him.
There are many listeners around Bugisu sub-region and across the country with an affinity similar to Mukuwa’s, and it is not just about an emotional attachment to the radio as it is about practicality but the desire to know what is happening in the country.
Political pundits and analysts in Mbale suggest that the radio would remain the most bankable and preferred medium for disseminating information if it was allowed to operate without government control or restrictions.
Mukuwa says the criticisms levied against local leaders, MPs, local government leaders and civil servants on radio have enabled the citizens to know the mistakes of their leaders and enabled those criticized to change.
“For us we sit here and listen, we even call back to discuss the topical issues at hand but I want to tell you that this has brought the local citizens into the debate, enabled leaders to change and has had an impact on service delivery,” said Mukuwa.
He added that with the emergence of Covid 19, they have no choice but to sit at home with their radios to listen to aspiring candidates in order to make good political decisions during voting.
“And this era of Covid 19, the government here now should allow the media to operate without restrictions because we need information and our country adopted the Access to Information Act  which must be put to work,” said Mukuwa.
This comes at the time; data from Twaweza’s Sauti za Wananchi survey, a nationally-representative, high-frequency mobile phone panel survey of public opinion and citizens’ experiences says that 54% of the citizens in Uganda say the media should have the right to publish any views and ideas, without restriction by government.
This data comes from 1,796 respondents in the Sauti za Wananchi panel, collected between September 20 and October 10, 2019. Further details are available from www.twaweza.org/sauti.
“Most citizens say the media should be allowed to operate without government control, a small majority of citizens (54%) say the media should have the right to publish any views and ideas without restriction by government,” reads the report in part PML Daily has seen.
And adds that “while the remainder (46%) says the government should have the right to prevent publication when it considers something to be harmful,”
The report adds that small majorities also say there should be no government control over who is allowed to work as a journalist (57%), and that TV and radio stations should not be required to broadcast news programmes produced by the government (58%).
Ms Marie Nanyanzi, the programme manager at Sauti za Wananchi at Twaweza said the data also found out that seven out of ten citizens (71-72%) support the view that criticism of leaders is a good thing for the country, helping to correct mistakes, rather than damaging the country by undermining either the authority of leaders or respect and unity.
The report says that citizens hold generally positive views of journalists and the media in Uganda six out of ten citizens (58%) see Ugandan journalists as professional, compared to one out of ten (9%) who disagree.
“And similarly, most citizens (56%) say the Ugandan media is reliable and accurate, compared to a small number (12%) who disagree, and more citizens agree (51%) than disagree (17%) that Ugandan journalists tell the truth even when this upsets powerful people,” said Ms Nanyanzi while quoting from the report.
All this comes as the international Universal Day for Access to Information is approaching- September 28 and it has been 15 years since Uganda adopted the Access to Information Act (2005).
This Act empowers citizens to scrutinize government decisions and hold public officials accountable while it is important that citizens should seek information, demand accountability from public officers and participate in decision making processes, it is also essential that public officials provide opportunities for citizens to participate and respond.
The data comes from Twaweza’s Sauti za Wananchi survey says most citizens (94%) feel that a citizen should be free to criticize their MP for being lazy and uncaring, and that almost as many feel that a citizen should similarly be free to criticize the President (85%) and government decisions (90%).
The report adds that 8 out of 10 citizens (82%) hold the view that the media in Uganda make a positive contribution to the country, preferring this over the alternative, that the media holds back development through mistakes, dishonesty and bias.
The report revealed that 3 out of four [74%] of the citizens say that radio is their main source of information, well ahead of any other media type, TV follows with around one out of ten citizens (13%) but that there is a slight shift over the past two years, with radio declining slightly and TV increasing slightly.
“Six out of ten citizens (60%) say they trust completely what they hear on radio, more than any other source, though closely followed by public meetings (58%),” the report says by Twaweza’s Sauti za Wananchi survey, a nationally-representative, high-frequency mobile phone panel survey of public opinion and citizens’ experiences.