Uganda will go to the polls in January 2020 and will have a new political establishment by February 2021. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the electoral commission has announced that there will be no mass gathering informing of rallies or open campaigning for the political players. The commission has therefore guided that all campaigns are to be conducted on radios, television, online publications as well as newspapers.
This declaration by the electoral body puts the media in a very delicate position. A position where they have to choose between the truth or money, where they have to ask the tough accountability questions or simply conduct public relations for the individuals or parties with huge budgets. There is no doubt that what has for a longtime been an invisible hand of the commercial arm of the media establishment will even be more visible in the editorial content that will be aired and published.
Media on the other hand will also heavily rely on social media content because of the new SOPs that have been presented by the electoral commission in covering elections. The debate of accuracy versus speed will return to the table as editors get back to that position of fact checking before publishing. Will fake news and hate speech slip through the gatekeepers and find itself into the traditional media? Shall we see a similar scenario of the Cambridge analytical into Uganda’s election?
These questions are a glimpse of what awaits Uganda’s media if not well prepared.
Investigative Journalism is very key in Uganda’s elections The major duty of the journalist is to seek the truth and to share it with the general public to generate debate. In this context, investigative journalism will play a very critical role in this election to uncover and expose the rot and dirt that could play out in this election especially because of its “scientific” nature. The media is expected to be very alert to several issues including who is funding the elections, who is selling people’s personal data to campaigning firms? What are the sources of funding for the different political players? Who is bribing the voters, breaking the codes of the elections register. These are just but some of the stories that the media needs to be alive to. But for the media to be able to do these investigations, there is an urgent need for training and brainstorming sessions that will generate ideas and thoughts around the electoral period. We are so deep into the electoral calendar and very soon the campaigns will officially start. The glamor and color of the electoral process as usually it is will be nowhere. All eyes therefore will be on the media to provide an equal and balanced platform to all political players to present their manifestos to the public. This means that the media needs to be up for the challenge. This can only be done through a series of training the media on election reporting and coverage, their role in advancing democracy and accountability for those who are seeking political office. The media by all means needs to observe and maintain a high level of professionalism, accuracy and impartiality in their coverage and this can only be achieved through training, designing reference tools for election coverage and as well as monitoring and evaluation mechanisms to assess their performance.
Irene Mutonyi is a reporter with open gate FM radio in Mbale city. Mutonyi has worked in media for 5 years now.
Hope Nuwakunda is a news anchor of 101.1 Mbabule FM based in Sembabule district.
Beth is a news reporter, anchor and editor with Radio west in Mbarara district.
Rev. Nelly Nelsons Otto is a trained Anglican priest and veteran investigative journalist passionate about economic, political and social reporting. Otto is currently a freelancer reporter with various media outlets in Uganda.
Rev. Nelly Nelsons Otto
Ivan Kaahwa is an award Winning Journalist, Producer and Reporter at the Public Broadcaster, Uganda Broadcasting Corporation TV (UBCTV). He Specializes in Investigation and Human Interest Reporting.
Julius (Nkunda) Irankunda is a chief editor for voice of Muhabura. He is passionate about healthcare, international relations, politics and environment.