This article was originally published by The Observer.
By Justus Lyatuu
The African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME) has urged all media houses to develop clear editorial policies as the country heads into the 2016 election season.
ACME executive director Peter Mwesige said Wednesday that many Ugandan media houses lacked policies to guide selection and treatment of news content. Such guidelines would also address distinguishing advertising and editorial content, and conduct of journalists in particular media houses.
“I carried out research sometime back and realized that most media houses, especially upcountry, don’t have editorial guidelines and as ACME, [we] think media houses should have editorial guidelines as we approach the election period,” Mwesige told journalists at a breakfast meeting to discuss draft guidelines for media coverage of the 2016 elections.
The 2016 guidelines lay out responsibilities of journalists, police, candidates and the Electoral Commission regarding media coverage of the elections. They address such issues as balance and fairness, opinion polls and election projects, political advertising, safety of journalists, bribery and corruption.
“Our interest is to facilitate and enable journalists generate and give the public timely and accurate information which will help them make sound decisions during the election,” Mwesige said.
The draft suggests that media houses, especially TV and radio, should not allow bigger parties to crowd out smaller ones, and media houses’ editorial and advertising departments should see that political adverts are labeled accordingly.
But during the discussion, journalists pointed out that sometimes smaller parties cannot afford to buy airtime, hence the dominance of the bigger, richer parties.
Mwesige urged the media to continue reporting incidents where broadcast station owners deny opposition politicians paid-for airtime, and task the Uganda Communications Commission to explain such occurrences.
The media coverage guidelines were first developed for the 2011 elections, through a participatory process facilitated by ACME with support from the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF).