January media monitoring report raises concern over quality of radio coverage of elections

African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME) announces the release of its January Report under the project titled, “Monitoring Media Coverage of the 2016 General Election”. The project, which started in July 2015, analyses media reporting on the presidential and parliamentary elections with a view to identifying good practices or pointing out gaps so that they are addressed in good time.

The January results show that radio, which a majority of Ugandans rely on for news, has continued to lag behind other media forms on both quantity of election stories (in proportionate terms) as well as on most measures of quality.

In terms of volume of stories, upcountry radio stations, which serve most Ugandans, carried far less election stories compared to their counterparts in Kampala. “This has been blamed on the prevailing environment, which includes ownership influences, self-censorship, intimidation from ruling party and government officials, as well as low human and financial resources at most upcountry stations,” said Dr Peter G. Mwesige, ACME’s executive director.

Moreover, most of the election coverage on radio falls below the standards required for the electorate to get quality information. For instance, more than half of the election news on radio (59%) did not contain background and context, 71% of the stories did not interrogate claims or promises by candidates, and 78% of the reports relied on single sources.

“This denies voters the perspective required to make informed decisions,” Dr Mwesige said.

On the whole, however, most media houses across all platforms (print and broadcasting) paid more attention to issues than to personalities even though most of the reporting followed a conventional approach that tended to focus on events.

The use of ordinary people as sources also improved, especially in newspapers and on television. However, there was no improvement in the use of women as sources across all media platforms. On average only 2 out of every 10 sources were women.

Although the three top presidential candidates — incumbent Yoweri Museveni, Go Forward’s Amama Mbabazi and FDC’s Kizza Besigye — continued to dominate coverage, there was an improvement in the attention (space and time) given to the other five candidates. The presidential debate on 15 January appears to have played a role in this.

Of the top three, President Museveni continued to receive the highest coverage in terms of both time and space across all media platforms.

Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC TV), which is by law mandated to give equitable time to all presidential candidates, maintained its disproportionate attention on President Museveni with the percentage of airtime spent on the incumbent slightly increasing to 81% in January from 79% in December.

UBC TV staff continued to argue that Mr Museveni’s lion’s share of the airtime was only because he still enjoys the services of the Presidential Press Unit, which supplies many of the president’s campaign-related stories. They added that his challengers have not taken up the offer to supply their own footage.

The New Vision and Bukedde (both in the Vision Group stable in which the government owns majority shares) also gave far more space to President Museveni (64% and 67% respectively) than to other candidates.

The New Vision led with Mr Museveni on the front page on 15 out of the 31 days in January. On most of the remaining days, the newspaper carried front page stories in which government officials provided upbeat updates on the status of sectors such as health, tourism, railways and roads.

The January findings also show that the media paid overwhelming attention to the presidential election at the expense of the parliamentary races.

ACME’s media monitoring project is funded by the Democratic Governance Facility under the Citizens’ Election Observers Network Uganda (CEON-U), the local observation initiative which comprises 18 civil society organisations led by the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative.

Photo credit: HRW

For further information, please contact Mr Mohles Kalule Segululigamba, ACME’s project manager, monitoring media coverage of 2016 elections, on mohlesk@acme-ug.org or 0776995229

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