New study reveals a complex picture of Ugandan media coverage of SRHR issues

A new study by Akina Mama wa Afrika (AMwA), titled “Report on Ugandan Media Coverage of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights,” examines how Ugandan media portrays SRHR issues. The pilot study, conducted by the African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME), analysed content across print, broadcast, and social media platforms from seven outlets between January and June 2023.

It examined the way SRHR issues are presented (framing) and the types of stories that are told, offering an understanding of how much attention the media gives to the subject and potential areas for improvement. The report highlights the following issues:

Framing of SRHR in the news

The study found that a significant portion of the SHRH coverage is rooted in societal norms, religion, and conflict. This reflects Uganda’s complex social landscape, where traditional beliefs and practices intersect with modern challenges. For instance, reporting on sexual orientation and gender identity might be framed within the context of religious teachings or cultural norms around gender roles.

While morality (86.1%) and conflict (77.2%) dominated narratives around sexual orientation, gender identity, and SGVB (Sexual and Gender-Based Violence), service delivery took centre stage in reporting issues like maternal health, HIV/AIDS, and family planning. Human rights and advocacy frames were also used by the media, particularly in the way LGBTQ+ issues, SGVB and adolescent health were reported.

Content gaps

The content choices made by the media outlets also reveal interesting differences. The study found that television tackled sensitive topics like sexual orientation and gender identity, perhaps due to its visual appeal. Newspapers, on the other hand, offered a broader range of information, including maternal health and family planning.

The report indicates a significant gap exists in the media’s portrayal of several critical SRHR issues. Topics like sexuality education, fertility struggles, and sex work remain largely invisible across all platforms. This lack of coverage raises concerns about the potential for underrepresentation and limited public awareness of these crucial matters. Similarly, issues concerning adolescent health, sexually transmitted infections, and sexuality are relegated to the shadows of media attention.

Voice and representation

The study also raises concerns about who gets a voice. Reporting heavily relies on government officials and religious leaders, leaving limited space for civil society and independent investigations. This lack of diverse perspectives can lead to biased narratives that do not reflect the experiences of marginalised groups, particularly women.

While SRHR stories largely focus on women, the analysis of the gender of sources used in Ugandan media reveals a consistent and concerning gap. This manifests across all media platforms, with male voices consistently outnumbering female voices:

  • Newspapers: 59.6% male vs. 40.4% female
  • Television: 64.8% male vs. 35.2% female
  • Online media: 67.9% male vs. 32.1% female

Examining specific source categories further underscores this disparity:

  • Government and political actors: These categories are overwhelmingly dominated by male voices, with 70.5% and 67.9% male representation respectively.
  • Religious representatives: 94.8% of religious representatives quoted in SRHR stories were male, highlighting a significant underrepresentation of women within religious institutions.
  • Victims: While highlighting the need for amplified representation, victims are predominantly female (78.8%)

While men still dominated SRHR news coverage, the proportion of women used as sources was slightly higher than what is typically observed in ACME reports on media coverage of public affairs. In the latter case, only two out of every 10 sources identified are women. Some categories, however, exhibit a slightly more balanced representation:

  • Ordinary individuals: These individuals, more likely to be quoted in their personal capacity, offer a more balanced view with 56.2% female representation.
  • Technical experts and CSO/NGO representatives: While still favouring males, these categories show a relatively balanced representation compared to others.

Download and read, here, the full Report on Ugandan Media Coverage of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights.

More information about the Akina Mama wa Africa SRHR programme is available here.

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