The volume of media coverage of the 2011 presidential elections has improved in comparison to the 2006 polls, according to a new preliminary report analysing newspaper coverage.
The report, which covers October to November 2010, was released by the Media Monitoring Network (MEMONET) in Kampala on December 14. MEMONET is a consortium of independent media organisations.
The report analysed quantitative and qualitative aspects of coverage of various candidates and issues in newspapers such as The New Vision, Daily Monitor, Red Pepper and local-language newspapers Bukedde, Etop, Rupiny and Orumuri on pages 1 to 3.
Tracking space, quotes, sourcing and right of reply for parties and their candidates, the researchers sought to assess balance and fairness of the coverage.According to the report, it was discovered that The New Vision accorded more space in terms of column centimetres to election news followed by Daily Monitor and Red Pepper. The New Vision had at least 1,853.8cm2 dedicated to election news while Daily Monitor had 1,519.2cm2 during that period.
Bukedde led in the local-language category.
However, while the newspapers were giving considerable coverage to election news, some political parties were getting more space than others, the report notes.
"The most covered political party was the NRM at 848.26cm2, FDC at 403.14cm2 and DP at 194.7cm2. The least covered party was SDP at 6.5 cm2," the report notes.
The report says news was "mainly descriptive in nature, with emphasis on campaign itinerary and less on policy positions, leadership skills and qualities of the candidates."
Analysing the tone of the stories in the various newspapers, the researchers noted that Daily Monitor and Bukedde portrayed news about candidates more neutrally compared to The New Vision and its sister weekly local-language papers Etop, Rupiny and Orumuri.
"Effort should be made to adhere to the professional code of ethics during coverage of candidates and other stakeholders in the elections to desist from unfair portrayal," the report says.
It was also noted that Betty Kamya, president of Uganda Federal Alliance, and the only female candidate in the race, was receiving less attention from the media.
The Chairman of the Electoral Commission, Dr. Badru Kiggundu, who launched the report, urged the media not to discriminate against any candidate by denying them a platform to address the electorate.
"This report comes at a time when we have received several complaints from candidates saying media are not treating them fairly," he said. "If you deny someone a platform, be ready to defend that position. If you have a good reason, I will stand by you."
Some radio stations in the countryside have denied access to opposition candidates, especially FDC president Kizza Besigye. Both the Media Council and the Electoral Commission have said this practice violates the spirit of broadcasting regulation, which is premised on the grounds that the spectrum and airwaves are a public resource.
The report calls upon the Electoral Commission and the Media Council to enforce compliance with electoral laws and regulations on equitable coverage especially with state owned newspapers like Rupiny, Etop and Orumuri.
Kiggundu also cautioned the media against broadcasting hate speech and advised editors to screen what the candidates say before it is aired.
Mr Mohles Segululigamba, the MEMONET project manager, said the study was still ongoing and the final report, which will be released in January 2011, will include data from radio stations.
Summary of findings
Space: The New Vision accorded more space to election news.
Issues: Newspapers focused more on campaign speeches than the issues of policy positions and qualities of candidates
Tone: Daily Monitor and Bukedde were more neutral but New Vision and her sister papers showed 100 per cent favouritism for the incumbent.
Sourcing: Most of the election news is sourced from manifestos and rallies.
Quotes: General newspaper quote for presidential candidates was in favour of President Museveni at 48%, Mao at 20.8%, Kizza Besigye at 8.8%, Abed Bwanika 8.5%, Olara Otunu 7.5%, Bidandi Ssali 3.2% and only 2.4% for Beti Kamya.
Gender: Male presidential candidates dominated as newsmakers. Beti Kamya, the only female candidates was the least covered.