This article was first published in Daily Monitor on 26 January. It is republished here with permission.
By Nicholas Sengoba
In the middle of an election, every entity, will want as much media coverage as possible -especially if that exposure comes at relatively ‘no cost.’
The ruling NRM has done the opposite. They decided to ban a leading TV station,-NTV from covering their rallies faulting the refusal of the broadcaster to use aerial footage captured by NRM’s own drone.
The broadcaster is correct because a media house or journalist should plan, produce and present their story the way they understand and desire the story to be received. This way, they will easily defend it in court. The footage of a third party is not in their control.
Three reasons may inform NRM’s action. First is knowledge that the election is already decided. This is possible with NRM and the incumbent’s three-decades under the belt. The considerable influence over; public finance and its distribution, the coercive arm of the State and the Electoral Commission all of which are serious factors in winning an election.
Second, if they sense that the coverage is ineffective in advancing their cause and, therefore, can do without it. This supercilious stand you take when statistics show that you dominate the coverage in all media. This is a result of incumbency, huge financial resources that see a party buying space and paying journalists ‘per diem’ or ‘facilitation’ to cover their campaign.
One TV station off the list would not be a significant loss to the party. Details on these aspects are best understood when one reads the latest reports regarding the 2016 election authored by the African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME) and the Alliance for Election Campaign Finance Monitoring (ACFIM).
Thirdly, if they feel that a media house gains more from covering the party, than the party gains from the media company covering it. In other words, without footage of the party, the media house is at a great loss in terms of content. We shall concentrate here.
Coverage of the 2016 election in both print and electronic media calls for some soul-searching by the media. What forms most of the news given to the public is regurgitated, watered down, edited, spiced up, re-written stuff centered around rallies, press conferences, written documents, manifestoes, etc.
Without rallies or press conferences, many of the media houses get lost and complain of a ‘news drought.’ You don’t see investigative journalism, serious analysis and follow up of old stories. We hear what the incumbent intends to do, but we rarely set aside space to comprehensively cover broken promises from previous elections. In this vain, we don’t help our audience judge that they are probably being given an empty or solid promise. We have not dedicated space to expose the record and character of those standing, when they held positions of power and what they did or failed to do -because we don’t find it our major source, the campaign rally!
In this, we fail to help our audience judge what sort of leadership these people will provide. Many of these aspects come as asides and ‘by the ways,’ as we busy ourselves with the campaign trail.
Even on the campaign trail, the coverage is shallow and predictable. NTV, for instance, has a structure when covering Go Forward’s Amama Mbabazi. Raymond Mujuni starts off with pictures of say a bicycle repairer explaining the challenges he experiences in his work, and what he expects from the candidate who is scheduled to hold a rally in the vicinity. The story then captures the candidate’s arrival at the rally, some theatrics showing the candidate receiving a spear, dancing and fanfare. Then the candidate makes promises.
The odd altercation here and there is also captured and then conclusive comments by the reporter. End of story. For FDC’s Kizza Besigye it is the same script only that here we are given voter statistics from the last election comparing what he and Museveni garnered. That is briefly the much hyped ‘Uganda decides’ story structure, week in, week out. If you watch this coverage for one week, you will still be ‘kept informed’ if you don’t watch for the next month!
It is with sadness that I dare say that the media has become like sheep following the political shepherds who direct the media to wherever they want. If you fail to follow directions like NTV is being accused of, then you are removed from the ‘herd!’
NRM knows this weakness. They know that NTV or any other media house will find itself with some empty space if they are banned from covering these rallies. NTV has not disappointed. They have resorted to using still pictures from previous rallies with comments in the background ever since they were banned-so as to remain on the campaign trail!
Media houses don’t seem to have their own independent agenda when it comes to events like the 2016 election. A clear arrangement about what we shall do. The political actors, analysts and experts will then be brought in to compliment this order.
The media has opted for the safer cheaper route of just saying and showing what is being done. It has become so repetitive and stale, now even the political organisations treat it with contempt.
Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues. firstname.lastname@example.org