ACME: Museveni got highest 2016 media coverage

President Museveni waves the Sunday Monitor newspaper while addressing journalists in Rwakitura, Kiruhura District

President Yoweri Museveni got the highest media coverage in the 2016 elections, according to report card for Ugandan media on coverage of 2016 elections.

The African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME) today released the findings of its final report under the project, “Monitoring Media Coverage of the 2016 General Elections in Uganda.”

The project, which started in July 2015, analysed coverage of the presidential and parliamentary campaigns from September 2015 to March 2016 in order to highlight good practice and, where appropriate, point out gaps so that they are addressed in good time.

The results show that Museveni was covered the most in newspapers, on radio, and on television.

Stories on the incumbent commanded 39% of newspaper space on the presidential candidates, with coverage of Go Forward’s Amama Mbabazi taking second place at 29% and stories on Forum for Democratic Change’s Kizza Besigye getting 21%, says the report.

Similarly, television spent 45% of its time dedicated to the re-election campaign of Mr Museveni compared to key challengers Besigye’s 22% and Mbabazi’s 19%.

The same pattern was repeated on radio, with Mr Museveni taking 41% of the time dedicated to presidential campaign news and information compared to Mr Mbabazi’s 24% and Dr Besigye’s 23%.

The five minor candidates received predictably negligible coverage, although attention to them increased slightly after the first presidential debate in January.

Although Mr Mbabazi, with 32%, had a slight edge over Mr Museveni (30%) in newspaper front page coverage overall, the president dominated when it mattered most — in the two months leading up to voting on 18 February.

The president also easily won the battle over photography, with his campaign pictures taking 39% of the space in newspapers against Mr Mbabazi’s 23% and Dr Besigye’s 22%.

The same pattern was repeated when it came to number of candidate pictures on the front pages.

Coverage of both the presidential and parliamentary elections across all mainstream media platforms also contained far more single-sourced stories than multiple-sourced ones, which is the professional practice, throughout the campaign period.

This problem was far more pronounced on radio, where 75% of stories on the stations monitored contained single sources, said Dr Peter G. Mwesige, ACME’s executive director.

The report says throughout the electioneering season, Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC), which is required by law to give equitable coverage to all candidates, paid disproportionate attention to President Museveni.

For instance, on average UBC TV gave the incumbent 73% of its entire news and commentary on elections with the second in the line, Mr Mbabazi, receiving only 12% of the coverage.

Dr Besigye, the eventual runner-up in the election, received only 4.5% of UBC coverage.

In comparison, the privately owned WBS TV gave 49% of its airtime to Mr Museveni, NBS 41%, and NTV 30%.

Many of the weaknesses in media coverage were blamed on self-censorship, intimidation and pressure from ruling party and government officials, ownership influences, as well as low human and financial resources at most media houses.

“Where journalists and media organisations lacked preparation, professionalism and a sense of purpose, these threats made a bad situation worse,” said Mr Mohles Kalule Segululigamba, the manager of ACME’s election monitoring project.

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