New guidelines on media coverage of elections were yesterday launched with a focus on promoting peaceful, free and fair polls. Launching the guidelines published by the African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME), Electoral Commission chairman Badru Kiggundu said it is the responsibility of every Ugandan to ensure that elections are free and fair.
Quoting former US President J F Kennedy, Dr Kiggundu urged Ugandans not to ask what the EC is doing to ensure free and fair elections, but first consider what they should do to have peaceful elections.
The guidelines appeal to journalists and media houses to avoid using government money and resources to favour a party. The guidelines also require media houses to be balanced, fair, independent and accurate while covering elections.
Bishop Zac Niringiye, who was the key speaker, said journalists should exercise press responsibility during the election time.
“It is the responsibility that creates space for press freedom,” bishop Niringiye said. The launch comes on the heels of heightened campaigns by UPC president Olara Otunnu to gather signatures to petition the Constitutional Court to disband the EC on allegations that it cannot conduct free and fair elections.
Uganda Broadcasting Corporation was also put on the spot during the launch with claims that it favours the ruling party by giving it broad coverage at the expense of other parties.
However, Mr Emmanuel Emor, the UBC corporation secretary, said NRM usually buys space for its programmes, but bishop Niringiye said UBC should always apologise to the public whenever it goes wrong instead of giving excuses.
Mr Bernard Tabaire, a media trainer and consultant at ACME, said the opposition has on several occasions been denied access to some media stations, following directives from resident district commissioners and district security officers.
There were also accusations that senior security chiefs attended President Museveni’s manifesto launch, thus showing partisan tendencies.
Security personnel accused
But NRM deputy spokesperson Ofwono Opondo defended the officials, saying they were invited. “Gen. David Tinyefunza, Gen Kale Kayihura and Dr Johnson Byabashaija attended the launch of NRM manifesto because we invited them. We even invited all political parties but none turned up or submitted apologies for not attending,” said Mr Opondo.
But bishop Niringiye said government officials should not attend political functions to avoid being taken to be biased. Daily Monitor, UBC, NTV Uganda, Uganda Radio Network, The Observer, and The Independent were among the media houses that signed the document and agreed to the guidelines.