African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME) announces the release of its November report on monitoring media coverage of the 2016 general election. The six-month project, which started on 1 September 2015, analyses stories on presidential and parliamentary elections with a view to establishing whether the media contribute to free and fair elections. More important, the project aims to point out gaps in media coverage of the electoral process so that they are addressed in good time.
The key findings in the November report reveal that the media (radio, TV and newspapers) are quoting ordinary people more in election stories, instead of relying on only candidates and party officials. For instance, there was an increase in the use of ordinary persons as sources of election stories by newspapers from 10.6% in October to 19% in November — the month in which the presidential campaigns kicked off.
The media also provided context and background to election stories in November at more than 50 per cent for radio, TV and newspapers. This is useful in ensuring the electorate understands election issues as well as promises by political candidates.
However, the November findings also show that the media still largely rely on single-sourced election stories. More than 60% of all election stories analysed in November across TV, radio and newspapers used one source instead of several sources, which is the more professional practice. In terms of gender, women were the least quoted sources in November, a trend carried on from October. Relatedly, most election stories in November were conventional (straight/hard news) in approach, implying that little analysis or explanatory reporting was done. This can also explain why the media scored poorly in interrogating claims by presidential candidates in the same month (below 40% across all media).
Additionally, an analysis of ‘prominence of coverage’ shows that President Yoweri Museveni was provided more front page and prominent coverage by newspapers and more airtime by both television and radio, compared to Independent presidential candidate Amama Mbabazi and
FDC’s Kizza Besigye, who come second and third respectively. This is in contrast to the October findings (for newspapers) where Mr Mbabazi dominated media coverage. In September, debate about Mr Mbabazi’s presidential bid was rich news fodder for the media, while the protracted negotiations between Mr Mbabazi and Dr Besigye also in October, explained Mr Mbabazi’s lead in news coverage.
However, the dominance of coverage by the three presidential candidates consistently since September (at least for newspapers) shows the disparate time and space the media have been allocating to the other five presidential candidates.
For UBC, the November findings show that it provided a bigger portion of its airtime space to ruling party presidential candidate Museveni at the expense of the other contenders. According to the Presidential Elections Act, 2005, UBC as a public broadcaster is mandated to accord equal treatment to all presidential candidates to present their programmes to the people.
“As the country inches closer to polling day, the media could do better quality reporting in terms of source diversity, explanation/interpretation of the contents of their stories as well as offer more analysis of the election issues,” said Dr Peter Mwesige, the executive director of ACME.
The media monitoring project is funded by the Democratic Governance Facility under the Citizens’ Election Observers Network Uganda (CEON-U), a working group of more than 30 civil society organisations monitoring the electoral process.