Uganda: Reporting the election results

The  presidential and parliamentary elections are over, but new results will keep  coming in for another five days or so.

The local  news media have reported on the results quite comprehensively. In particular,  we have seen some significant strides in television coverage of the elections.  Kudos!

But the one  area where our television stations — and newspapers too — still need improvement  is on the presentation of results.

We mentioned  in our previous offering on  “ Announcing the election results  the importance of  reporters providing sufficient context about the results being announced so as not  to excite or mislead voters. In particular, we emphasised the importance of  clarifying at all times how many polling stations     or districts were represented in the  results being announced, the kind of support that different candidates have  enjoyed in those areas, and so on.

Unfortunately,  we have not seen consistency in the application of these principles across our  media platforms. In reporting about the MP elections, for instance, a number of  newspapers presented provisional results on Saturday showing who had been  kicked out of Parliament and who had survived. By Sunday, it was clear that  some people who were reported to have lost had won and vice versa. There was a  lot of confusion over candidates such as FDC’s Salaamu  Musumba and NRM Chief Whip Daudi  Migereko.

It would have  helped if the media had shown clearly the percentage of polling stations that  had reported in each constituency by the time they went to press. A good  newspaper report could have provided this kind of contextual information:
“In Busoma constituency, Candidate X was leading Y 18,000 to  16,000 votes with 60 percent of polling stations reporting. These don’t include  results from Place A, B, and C which are Candidate Y’s stronghold. About 20,000  voters were registered to vote from the polling stations that had not yet reported.”

This kind of  information would help supporters of the different candidates hold back what  could clearly turn out to be premature celebrations.

In addition,  (I am not sure if this information was not made available by the Electoral  Commission) but the newspapers should also have done a better job naming the  districts from which the provisional results that were being reported at  different points were coming from. Kenyan television stations did this very  well in the 2007 elections. That way, voters are able to know if their  candidate still has a chance (for instance, if results from his or her  strongholds have not been reported yet).

Television  reports had this weakness too, but they also had another kind of problem — the  visual presentation of numbers.

Having chosen  to show the provisional totals for the different presidential candidates  starting with incumbent Yoweri Museveni,  who enjoyed an early lead, some stations kept on mixing up the order. Olara Otunnu, who was at some  point above Nobert Mao, would appear below the DP  candidate, while Jaberi Bidandi  Ssali who was last for most of the first two nights,  was shown to be above Samuel Lubega.

EXAMPLE A (POOR)

Candidate
Total Votes
Percentage
Yoweri Kaguta Museveni

Kizza Besigye

Olara Otunnu

Nobert Mao

Abed Bwanika
Betty Kamya

Bidandi Ssali

Samuel Lubega

In Example A,  while it appears the results have been presented in descending order, with the  leading candidate first and the last one at the bottom, closer scrutiny  suggests the order is in fact jumbled up. Otunnu who  has a lower percentage is placed higher than Mao while Bwanika  is placed ahead of Kamya who has a higher percentage  than his.

Example B is  much easier for the viewer to digest as the results are presented in a perfect  descending order.

EXAMPLE B  (BETTER)

Candidate

Total Votes
Yoweri Kaguta Museveni

Kizza Besigye

Nobert Mao

Olara Otunnu

Betty Kamya
Abed Bwanika

Bidandi Ssali

Samuel Lubega

Similarly,  there was no reason for TV reporters to come close to biting their tongues  trying to announce the exact figures Electoral Commission Chairman Kiggundu kept reading out at intervals. They could have  rounded off the results, which would have made it far easier to read on TV, and  then presented the exact figures on the screen.

Example:  “President Museveni received about five million four  hundred thousand votes, representing 68 per cent of votes cast while his  closest challenger Kizza Besigye  had about two million votes, or 26 per cent of the votes cast.”

This is  better than “President Museveni received five million  four hundred twenty eight thousand three hundred and sixty nine votes….” which  some of my friends on TV used.

My other  disappointment with newspapers and TV so far (it’s not too late) has been the  failure to use the map of Uganda to provide context for the results. Had they  done this, it would have shown quite easily, for instance, that Museveni had won convincingly in Buganda, made such  significant gains in northern Uganda, and so on.
A similar  graphic could have been used to report the results of the parliamentary races.  Which parties won in which regions?   Buganda may still appear “yellow country” but we would have seen DP’s  green popping up in Masaka and elsewhere.
In addition  (and again this is not too late for both TV and newspapers) it would have been  good to use some simple graphics to show areas in which different parties had  made gains or losses or retained their support.

Hopefully, we  shall see some of these details in the coming days as complete results from the  presidential and parliamentary elections as well upcoming local government  elections are reported.

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