Reporting the election results

By Peter G. Mwesige

The presidential and parliamentary elections in Uganda 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 onAnnouncing 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 5,428,369 68.38
Kizza Besigye 2,064,963 26.01
Olara Otunnu 125,059 1.58
Nobert Mao 147,917 1.85
Abed Bwanika 51,708 0.65
Betty Kamya 52,782 0.66
Bidandi Ssali 34,688 0.44
Samuel Lubega 32,726 0.41

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 Percentage
Yoweri Kaguta Museveni 5,428,369 68.38
Kizza Besigye 2,064,963 26.01
Nobert Mao 147,917 1.85
Olara Otunnu 125,059 1.58
Betty Kamya 52,782 0.66
Abed Bwanika 51,708 0.65
Bidandi Ssali 34,688 0.44
Samuel Lubega 32,726 0.41

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.

About Peter G. Mwesige

Dr Mwesige is co-founder and executive director of the African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME) Email: mwesige@acme-ug.org; Twitter: @pmwesige

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