How Well Can the Media Cover the 2016 Elections in Uganda?

Alfred Oryem
By Alfred Oryem 

“Results from our monitoring report show that some media outlets (The Independent & Bukedde TV) reported mostly personal attacks, yet the right of reply was not availed to the attacked parties.   I feel the media can do much better by focusing more on issues than personal attacks.” – Alfred Oryem

Since September 2015, the African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME) has been monitoring media coverage of the 2016 elections. The purpose being to establish if the media can contribute to free and fair elections. Importantly, the exercise seeks to constructively intervene by addressing gaps in media coverage before elections.

My experience as a media monitor of the 2016 election coverage at ACME has shown that the media in Uganda is still wanting in as far as fairness and objectivity are concerned.

For instance, on 4 November 2015, a day after the nomination of presidential candidates, the newspapers had a problem balancing the front page in terms of photography. The Daily Monitor went with both the NRM candidate Yoweri Museveni at the top and Independent candidate Amama Mbabazi at the center, while the New Vision played Museveni’s photo prominently.

Even in cases where candidates were accorded equal coverage in terms of space, the tone of coverage leaned positively towards some candidates against others.

The events that preceded Namboole at Kololo vis-à-vis those at Nakivubo were revealing. Most TV stations were represented at both venues but what choices did they make? UBC Television stuck with Museveni at Kololo and would not give a second to the events at Nakivubo for their live coverage. Others like NBS Television chose both venues but Nakivubo eventually took the day.

The other issue of concern during the live coverage was failure by some journalists to report accurately. It may appear minor for an analyst to say Dr Kizza Besigye first contested for the presidency in 2006 (instead of 2001), but the voter who is tuned in gets misinformed. Even though cases of inaccuracies were few, they need to be checked.

Meanwhile, President Yoweri Museveni chose to address the press at State House on the day his rival, Besigye was being nominated. This was clearly a move to divert media and public attention from the Besigye nomination. The press conference, in my opinion, could have been relayed as breaking news and later served in the news bulletins.

Another issue to note is that most stories analyzed between September and October were mostly conventional – the ‘he said, she said’ stories. The ‘so what’ and ‘what next’ aspect of storytelling were lacking, as well as interrogation of candidates’ claims.  This meant that the public were left at the mercy of so-called political analysts, some of whom lack objectivity and depth of knowledge.

All this makes one wonder whose interest the media is serving; whose agenda they are setting. Results from our monitoring report show that some media outlets (The Independent & Bukedde TV) reported mostly personal attacks, yet the right of reply was not availed to the attacked parties.   I feel the media can do much better by focusing more on issues than personal attacks.

The local radios and regional newspapers did not make the situation any better; most didn’t give attention to national issues, but focused on stories that had little to do with the presidency. How will Ugandans, the majority of whom reside in rural areas vote the right candidate if the media is falling short on its role?

I am hoping that as the Election Day draws near, the media will reflect on these issues and make necessary changes for the good of the 2016 elections and for Uganda in general.

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