On Friday, 17 March 2017, Assistant Inspector General of Police Andrew Felix Kaweesi, who was the force’s spokesperson, was shot dead in the city suburb of Kulambiro, where he lived.
He was killed with his bodyguard Kenneth Erau and driver Geoffrey Mambewa.
The event sparked intense media coverage in print, broadcast and online.
ACME undertook a study to analyse that coverage along various measures of quantity and quality such as prominence, sourcing, and framing.
It also explores perspectives on the ethical debates that arose from the coverage.
Its methods include content analysis of slightly more than 100 articles published on the killing, by the country’s five major English language publications; and key informant interviews with five media & communications experts.
It troubleshoots for what went wrong and offers some remedies that can be applied to expanding and improving coverage of this and/or similar news events in the future.
The study examined coverage of the killings in Uganda’s five major print publications in the eight days following the shooting.
The publications are New Vision, Daily Monitor, The Observer, Red Pepper and The Independent magazine. Coverage was studied starting with the day after the shooting Saturday, 18 March 2017 to Saturday, 25 March 2017.
The researchers also watched social media coverage as it happened and the study drew from observations on these platforms as well.
The study also looked at how prominently these stories were placed on the newspaper pages. About 29% of all these stories were on the front page.
The New Vision offered the story more prominence than the other publications did. Of its Kaweesi stories, 38% were on the front page.
Overall, 59 (56.7%) of the stories were first leads on the pages on which they appeared, while 34 (32.7%) were second leads.
Expert opinion held that this level of coverage and prominence was right and hitting.
“The media did take lead in informing the public and the story became the country’s agenda for those days, as a result,” said Haruna Kanaabi, executive secretary of the Independent Media Council of Uganda, a self-regulatory body for the industry.
Cynthia Nyamai, a communications consultant, who was also a colleague of all three deceased persons, agreed with the view that the media “gave the story the prominence it deserved”.
Kaweesi was killed together with his driver and bodyguard.
However, whereas Kaweesi, an Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIGP) at the time of his death, received prominent coverage, his junior colleagues were covered in passing.
More than 80% of the stories on the shooting focused on Kaweesi. An even higher proportion (85%) of front-page coverage was also about him. The imbalance in focus was further compounded by the fact that
New Vision consistently got Mambewa’s name wrong, referring to him as Geoffrey Wambewo, across the week.
While all the experts recognised that Kaweesi’s seniority had an important news-making effect, they didn’t agree with the level of privilege the press accorded Kaweesi vis-à-vis the other fatally shot officers.
“Having worked with them every day, I would have loved to see equal coverage of all three,” Nyamai said.
Simon Kaheru, a media analyst who is also the board chairman of Uganda Broadcasting Corporation, argued that equal coverage would in fact be a matter of social justice, and the imbalance in turn, skewed public sympathy towards the senior officer.
“For instance, members of the public are collecting money to support Kaweesi’s orphans, but he had a lot going for him. What about these junior officers? In a fair and just society, it is the role of the media to highlight that [social imbalance].”