Delivering Credible Elections Amidst COVID-19 In Uganda
Town hall and Virtual Meeting on Media as a Medium for Political Campaigns ahead of the 2021 General Elections
July 16, 2020 – Mestil Hotel Kampala
The Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD) and the Public Policy Institute (PPI) have teamed up to implement the ‘Delivering Safe and Credible Elections Amidst COVID19 in Uganda initiative, designed to analyse and convene dialogues on the impact of COVID-19 on political and civic participation in the context of the 2021 general elections. Through analysis and dialogue, the initiative intends to generate evidence regarding the implications of the disruptions occasioned by COVID-19 and the measures put in place to mitigate the impact on political participation and electoral integrity. From the analyses, NIMD and PPI will inform and engage key political players particularly the political parties and Election Management Bodies (EMBs) on how democratic rights and electoral integrity should be safeguarded during the COVID-19 pandemic. The initiative involves;
- undertaking analysis of the disruptions of the various aspects of election delivery and management during the pandemic and the measures put in place (standard operating procedures) to mitigate the impact and ensure elections are delivered as scheduled;
- convening of physical and virtual townhall meetings to discuss the preliminary analyses, and building consensus on options for delivering safe and credible elections amidst the pandemic; and
- engaging political parties and EMBs on the emerging options for both information and redress to ensure democratic rights and electoral integrity.
Uganda has a diverse and dynamic media sector. There are over 300 licensed radio stations and 39 operational televisions including 7 pay stations with 1.4 million subscribers. Radio remains a widely accessed medium with 79 percent of households owning at least one radio set. There are 26.6 million mobile telephone subscribers of which 65 percent (16.9 million) are smart phones contributing to the 37 percent internet penetration in the country. This media landscape partly informed the EC’s guidelines on the use of mainstream and social media as an alternative medium to reaching voters. Unfortunately, the media landscape is distorted and presents serious contestation on ownership and access. In the recent past, various opposition candidates have been denied an opportunity to access media houses across the country. This situation is worse for state-owned media houses and/ or media houses owned by NRM Political Party Sympathizers. The EU Election Observation Mission report of the Uganda 2016 elections stated that the president and his party had access to funding and means, including public media which were not equally available to his competitors. There are thus financial and structural impediments to accessing media platforms, especially for opposition political players. The unequal access to media houses which characterizes the election season augments the view that a limited campaign period through media is likely to inadvertently affect the freeness and fairness of the electoral process.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Uganda Electoral Commission significantly altered several electoral activities and instituted measures to mitigate the further spread of COVID-19 and protect public safety during and after the elections. Consequently, the UEC banned mass rallies to solicit for political support and guided that all political campaigns must be conducted through mainstream and social media. Subsequently, the Uganda Communications Commission developed and issued guidelines that lay out the responsibilities of media houses, broadcasting radio stations, television stations, political parties, candidates, journalists, and the Electoral Commission regarding the use of media for campaigns during the national Presidential and Parliamentary elections in Uganda. The guidelines were purposed to prescribe the expected practice by broadcasting media houses regarding campaigning and election reporting during the 2021 general elections. In light of Uganda’s media landscape and the inherent nature of electoral democracy as a human to human activity, PPI and NIMD are convening the second town hall and virtual meeting to interrogate the use of media as a medium for political campaigns ahead of and during the 2021 general elections.
The objectives of the townhall and virtual meeting are structured to guide political players and Election Management Bodies to respond to several areas of contestations regarding the use of media as a medium for political campaigning and its implications on political messaging, frugality of the electoral environment and generally integrity of the 2021 general elections. The overall objective is to interrogate how Uganda’s media architecture is conducive and accessible for political campaign messaging amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, the townhall and virtual meeting is intended to;
- Provide a platform to disseminate and engage with the key tennets of Uganda’s contemporary media landscape and its influence on access and political messaging.
- Discuss current development dynamics of the media industry in Uganda and the ways in which those dynamics influence access to media by political actors ahead of and during elections.
- Ahead of the 2021 general elections, and owing to recently issued guidelines by the UCC, build consensus on the key regulatory and practice considerations for political players and EMBs to ensure an accessible and affordable media landscape for political messaging.
3. Format of the Townhall and Virtual Meeting
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the regulations issued by Government in the interest of public safety, the townhall and virtual meeting will have both physical and online participants. A selected number of participants including key speakers will convene in a spacious meeting hall at the Mestil Hotel, Kampala. The discussions will be simultaneously syndicated across several media platforms including a Facebook live coverage, Zoom webinar portal and television. There will be a PowerPoint presentation of the preliminary analysis to highlight the context and provide direction to the discussion. The Electoral Commission and the Uganda Communications Commission have been invited to shade more light on;
- how the revised roadmap and guidelines issued by UCC on the use of media as a medium for political campaigning guarantee democratic rights and electoral integrity – Electoral Commission and Uganda Communications Commission;
- regulatory practices to level the campaign playing field in the wake of both COVID-19 pandemic and 2021 general elections – Uganda Communications Commission;
- How will the UCC ensure that time and space is equally allocated to candidates and political parties across public media?
- How will paid political advertising be regulated?
- What are the legal obligations for both public and private media to air voter education or candidates debates in the wake of the ban on mass gatherings and political rallies?
- the nature of regulations and enforcement mechanisms to address hate speech, misinformation, fake news, and factual misrepresentation during elections and in the wake of COVID-19?
The presentation and UCC/EC addresses shall be followed by a panel of speakers from the leading political parties and organisations. The discussions will inform key demands and actions for EC and UCC to redress as well as a publication on ‘Delivering Safe and Credible Elections amidst a Pandemic in Uganda’ – the media as a medium for political campaigning ahead of the 2021 general elections.