Media-only election campaigns likely to leave many Ugandans under-informed, study shows

Photo credit: Afrobarometer

NEWS RELEASE: Media-only election campaigns proposed to avoid mass rallies during the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to leave many Ugandans under-informed, a new analysis of Afrobarometer survey data shows.

Migrating most campaign activities to the media to limit the spread of the coronavirus, as recently directed by the Electoral Commission, may be feasible as the number of registered/operational media outlets in Uganda has reached more than 300 radio stations, 50 television stations, and 10 major news publications while the Internet and social media are now available in most trading centers and villages.

Recent increases in media penetration into the countryside and in local language media, as well as strong popular support for a free media, add to the feasibility of media-only campaigns in the 2021 elections.

However, Afrobarometer survey data show that the proportion of Ugandans who can access and who make use of various media channels remains relatively low and concentrated among certain demographics, such as the young, the more educated, men, urban residents, and people in the Central Region. Media-only campaigns may thus disadvantage more women than men, and many poorer, less educated, older, and rural citizens.

These findings make a strong case for the government to ensure access to media that guarantees equitable access and free engagement between candidates and members of the public.

Key findings

  • Most Ugandans have access to a mobile phone (87%) and a radio set (79%). Fewer have access to a TV set (29%) and a computer (8%). See Figure 4.
  • Eight out of 10 Ugandans get news “every day” or “a few times a week” from radio (80%). Regular news consumption is much lower for television (31%), newspapers (12%), the Internet (13%), and social media (14%) (Figure 1 and Figure 4). Access to news through television, newspapers, the Internet, and social media is most common in urban areas, in the Central Region, and among the young, men, and those with at least a secondary education.
  • The proportion of Ugandans who get news from television “every day” or “a few times a week” has grown by 10 percentage points since 2015, increasing from 21% to 31%. News from Social media has grown from 8% to 14%, Internet 9% to 13%, radio from 76% to 80% while Newspaper sources have registered no increase (13% to 12%). (Figure 2).
  • The national electricity grid reaches nearly one-half of all villages sampled in the survey (49%), while 26% of all households sampled were connected to the national electricity grid. While 18% of survey respondents reported that electricity from the national grid is available “most” or “all of the time”, 38% of Ugandans use other power sources, including 33% who use solar.
  • The proportion of Ugandans who feel that the media usually provide fair coverage during election campaigns fell from 52% in 2015 to 37% in 2019.
  • Most Ugandans endorse the media’s right to publish freely without government restrictions (70%) and support the media’s “watch-dog” role of investigating government mistakes and corruption (79%) (Figure 3). A majority (56%) also support unrestricted public access to the Internet. Only minorities are opposed to government restrictions on sharing information that criticizes or insults the president (29%) or is false (17%), as well as hate speech (22%).

Read the full statement and study findings here.

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