The African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME) has commenced a six-month project to monitor media coverage of Uganda’s 2016 general elections. This project, funded by the Democratic Governance Facility, is part of ACME’s mission to help to transform the news media into effective watchdogs and more reliable and credible sources of information.
Additionally, it is ACME’s core contribution to the Citizens’ Election Observers Network Uganda (CEON-U), a working group of more than 30 civil society organisations monitoring the electoral process.
Dr. Peter Mwesige, ACME’s executive director, explains: “Our approach to media monitoring is what some call ‘a process of constructive intervention’ whereby gaps in and concerns about coverage are addressed before the elections.”
“We don’t want to simply do a postmortem report after the elections and apportion blame or praise. We want to share with the journalists and other actors a regular pulse check on how the media are covering the elections so that best practices can be maintained while shortcomings are addressed before it’s too late,” he says.
Media reporting of elections in Uganda has been monitored in the past. However, this will be the first time analysis of coverage is publicly released for debate and critique in the pre-election, Election Day and post-election periods. The intended result is that complaints that plagued the media in past elections – particularly in regards to balanced, issue-based coverage – will be corrected in the run-up to the polls in order to equip journalists with tools to enable free and fair elections.
In its report following the 2011 elections, the European Union Election Observation Mission noted that “some key media failed to provide equitable coverage for candidates and parties, generally to the disadvantage of the opposition.” The report was especially critical of the government broadcaster Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC TV and Radio) which by law is required to provide equal airtime to all candidates.
The report also noted that some private newspapers, TV and Radio stations failed the balancing test, with many either allocating more airtime to either the incumbent or the opposition.
By monitoring, documenting and sharing trends in media coverage, ACME hopes not only to influence journalists, but also to empower political actors, civil society and the voting public to demand adherence to acceptable journalism standards in reporting on the elections.
To this end ACME has established a team to monitor 47 print, television and radio stations, as well as popular social media platforms. The selected media houses, according to the ACME’s media monitoring manager Mohles Kalule Segululigamba, are representative of Uganda’s geographical regions, languages, and ownership.
The monitoring will cover a wide range of issues including, but not limited to;
- The topics/issues covered
- The sources quoted in the coverage
- The number and gender of the sources
- The format of the election-related news stories
- The orientation of the story
- The origin/prompt of the story
- The tone of the coverage
- Whether the story provides sufficient background and context
- Whether the story interrogates claims by candidates
- Candidates/parties that are covered more often
ACME has also revised and published the Guidelines for Media Coverage of Elections in Uganda that have been shared and discussed with journalists and their media houses. They are intended to assist journalists to provide fair, accurate and comprehensive elections related news that enables citizens make informed political choices.