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Virtual campaigns in Uganda: media’s thin line between objectivitiy and business optimization

Uganda is looking forward to another election after 5 years, in 2021. The debate during such
times and previously it has been about incumbent President Museveni’s re run in another election and who his strongest opponent is, usually Dr Col. Kizza Besigye is always on the
fore front. For four times, he has lost but nevertheless he is expected to run against his
nemesis for the fifth time, in 2021 for Presidency.
From when he was elected Kyaddondo East MP popular musician Robert Kyagulanyi aka
Bobi Wine, has come with a political wave and movement; People Power and has since
shown intentions to stand as President. Having a three tight race; of Bobi Wine, Dr.Besigye
and Gen.Museveni is however no longer the discussion. The discussion is about the effects
of the pandemic on Uganda’s election.
On June 16 th , Uganda’s electoral body chairman Justice Simon Byabakama announced a revised electoral road map, quite different from what had been announced the previous
year. Dates of most electoral activities were shifted ahead, but most importantly, mass rally
campaigns banned. This means no candidate will organize mass rally campaigns, move from
place to place with long convoys of cars showing off support muscle of electorates.
Candidates have been asked to campaign using the tv, radio, newspapers and social media.
The debate here is majority media houses in Uganda are private with most radio stations
owned by politicians. Who will ensure there is fair distribution of airtime space on tv, radio
and newspapers?
The bigger problem here is that media, mandated to document the electoral process are left
with a challenge; to report on the election with objectivity and fairness at the same time
maximize profits from campaigns.
I jokingly asked one of my supervisors that what do we do if a candidate pays a huge sum of
money for advertisement and there’s a damning story about him/her waiting on an editorial
email? Do we take the money and drop the story? Of course, the advertising money paid
should have nothing to do with editorial work, but how many media houses are willing to
bite the bullet and separate the two?
It is important to emphasize objectivity in the face of money. The election is a big test to Uganda’s media industry on how objective they’ll stand in very tempting circumstances. He who with a deep pocket gets bigger advertisement, and chances of compromising and influencing direction of stories is high, as media we should keep our head high.

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