There are two major English language daily newspapers in Uganda. The New Vision, which is in some part government sponsored, and the Daily Monitor, which is independent. Oftentimes they’ll have the same lead article, and both try to showcase a few different points of view in most issues. But sometimes, their spin is completely obvious when the two papers sit side by side on the newsstand, announcing totally different things.

Today, for example, the difference was nearly unbelievable. The Daily Monitor announced that “Peers Pin Museveni on Bad Governance” in huge letters on the front cover. The article goes on to discuss the findings of the African Peer Review Mechanism report which essentially grades the country on how it’s doing on a number of factors. The report basically says that Uganda has done well in terms of keeping the AIDS rate down, and has decreased the poverty level significantly. But the report calls out Uganda’s president for holding off real democracy during his 23 years in power. It criticizes his handling of the constitutional amendment abolishing term limits (he paid off the MPs making the decision), and the unchecked power of the executive branch, among other things.

The New Vision, on the other hand, didn’t want its readers to get that message. Instead, its main headline is the overly sensationalistic “Homosexual Admits Recruiting Students“, in huge, bold lettering. [Sidenote: homosexuality here is extremely taboo… and for that matter also illegal. So a lead story like this is clearly designed to get readers’ attention. The issues around homosexuality could also be a whole other blog; take a look at the story to see some of it for yourself.]

In smaller print, on the lower right hand corner of the front page, the New Vision spins the African Peer Review Mechanism report to be a little less damning: “Poverty, Democracy Challenges for Uganda“. The article does make note of the report’s criticism of president Museveni, but it spends most of its time outlining all of the things Uganda’s done right.

In instances like this, it seems pretty clear to me what’s going on. Media which is not free from government interference can be a powerful force – and can send a lot of mixed signals to citizens trying to inform themselves about their country.

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