« Back to all News

Election Reporting Town Hall: Challenges and Best Practices

On the 4th of July 2024, the Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD) hosted an election reporting town hall. The event was tailored to provide a platform for discussing and sharing insights on the challenges and best practices in reporting during election periods, with a special focus on experiences from Asia and the Pacific, Africa, Eastern Europe/Caucasus, MENA, and Central and South America.

Author: Communications Gfmd | 9. July 2024

The year 2024 will see elections in almost 100 countries, including eight of the world’s 10 most populous nations – Bangladesh, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Pakistan, Russia, and the United States.

With around a quarter of the world’s population eligible to vote in elections this year, GFMD members requested an opportunity to learn from each other about their approaches to assisting media and ensuring information integrity as part of overall electoral assistance.

In addition to facilitating learning between members, GFMD continues to argue for media support to be better integrated into overall electoral assistance from the European Union and other donors. Most recently, at the Team Europe Democracy annual meeting in June, GFMD noted that despite disinformation being a priority issue for policymakers, the strategies and funding provided is not proportional to the challenges to information integrity. .

This is further illustrated by this year’s European Democracy Hub report on The Future of European Electoral Support, in which media assistance is not covered in a meaningful way.

Mapping resources on media assistance and reporting around elections

Ahead of the meeting, GFMD members contributed to a mapping of resources on election reporting. GFMD members can view and add to the mapping by requesting access here.

The meeting heard insights from GFMD members from Mongolia, Syria, Uganda, Philippines, Pakistan, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Media’s role in elections: Insights from Mongolia

Onon Batmunkh, Executive Director of the Globe International Center (GIC)

Onon Batmunkh shared insights from Mongolia’s recent elections and GIC’s role in monitoring. Since 2004, GIC has monitored parliamentary and presidential elections, becoming the only organisation with two decades of experience. She highlighted the media’s role, revealing that the ruling party received 50% of election coverage on the national broadcaster, indicating a bias in coverage between ruling and opposition parties. Independent election journalism and voter education were stressed as crucial for a fair electoral process. Data from top TV channels, including the Mongolian National Broadcaster, showed their significant influence during elections.

“The national broadcaster provided 50% of its coverage to the ruling party, while the opposition parties received significantly less.”

Best practices from GIC’s monitoring include continuous voter education campaigns, transparent media monitoring, and adherence to election laws. These practices aim to improve election coverage quality and ensure equal opportunities for all political parties.

Deepfakes, Disinformation and AI’s Impact on Syrian Elections

Ali Al Ibrahim, Founder and Managing Editor of the Syrian Investigative Reporting for Accountability Journalism Association (SIRAJ)

Ali Al Ibrahim discussed the impact of deepfakes, disinformation, and AI on Syria’s elections. He explained that deepfakes—realistic fake videos or audios created using AI—were used to manipulate public opinion and election outcomes.

“In Syrian elections, deepfakes have been used to damage political opinion and create confusion. During the last election, a deepfake audio showed an opinion leader allegedly admitting to receiving foreign funding to destabilise Syria. This audio went viral on social media and was picked up by state-controlled media.”

SIRAJ fights these threats using investigative journalism and advanced technology, focusing on verification and fact-checking. They conduct workshops and public reports to educate the public on the dangers of deepfakes and disinformation. A significant success was their investigation into networks of bots spreading disinformation, which led to the shutdown of several bot accounts and raised awareness about the need for better social media monitoring.

Election reporting in Uganda and the Philippines

Eunice Kasirye, Head of the Uganda chapter of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT)

Reflecting on the 2021 general elections, held amidst the peak of COVID-19, Eunice Kasirye highlighted the shift to virtual campaigns due to lockdowns and the financial and logistical challenges faced by media organisations and candidates, particularly women, during the pandemic.

“Media platforms were the only means for electioneering, and this required significant resources. Unfortunately, the dynamics of our society meant that those with the most resources were men.”

Despite these challenges, Kasirye emphasised the importance of the media in maintaining democratic processes.

“We must continue to push for balanced and fair coverage, especially for marginalised groups.”

Janess Eliao, Deputy Head of IAWRT Philippines

Janess Eliao discussed the critical role of the media in shaping public perception and tackling misinformation around the 2022 presidential elections in the Philippines. She highlighted the efforts made by major news outlets to provide extensive coverage, ensuring that the public stayed informed about candidates, platforms, and key issues. This included significant efforts focused on fact-checking, particularly in combating misinformation and disinformation circulating online.

“There are still a lot of things to improve on, especially in how we, as journalists, can highlight people’s stories and aspirations. Elections allow us to revisit long-standing problems and emerging issues that affect the lives of ordinary people.”

Internet shutdowns during the election period in Pakistan

Sana Ali, Director of the Pakistan Press Foundation

During the February 2024 elections in Pakistan, the shutdown of the internet and social media platforms was a significant challenge.

“The entire country went to the polls without access to their mobiles or to data.”

Voters couldn’t access helplines to find out where their polling station was, and reporters on the ground couldn’t communicate with newsrooms because of the lack of connectivity. Post-election, the prolonged shutdown of platforms like X further complicated reporting efforts.

“Advocacy and keeping the pressure on the authorities is of significant importance.”

She also emphasised the need for journalists to develop digital safety strategies and diversify their platforms, not relying significantly on one platform, to mitigate risks.

Social media monitoring during South African elections, challenges and limitations

Guy Berger, Former Director for Policies and Strategies regarding Communication and Information at UNESCO

Guy Berger highlighted various initiatives to monitoring social media during South Africa’s elections and noted significant challenges faced by these groups:

  • Silos and Duplication: Many monitoring initiatives operated independently, leading to duplication and rivalry rather than collaboration.
  • Focus on Social Media: While crucial, most efforts focused solely on social media content, with only a few carrying out surveys to understand the impact of the content.
  • Lack of Strategic Dissemination: Planning refocused on research by the NGOs and academics but did not include activities to effectively disseminate findings on disinformation or electoral violence to journalists and others.
  • Technological Limitations: Researchers predominantly analysed textual content, overlooking more complex media forms like manipulated media (images and videos), and failing to address emerging challenges from AI-generated media.
  • Data Challenges: Access to comprehensive data via APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) was limited, forcing reliance on costly data brokers or risky scraping methods, thereby missing out on closed groups and private content on platforms like WhatsApp. The focus was mainly on the X platform while there were much more influential platforms such as Facebook, TikTok, Whatsapp and Instagram. Lack of access to these APIs also made it difficult for them to study the performance of these platforms.
  • Platform Accountability: Few initiatives use the platform’s own policies on hate speech, election integrity and content moderation as a framework for analysis..
  • Public Service Content Oversight: There was minimal investigation into the prevalence and impact of public service content initiatives by platforms during elections.

Despite these challenges, Guy highlighted positive outcomes, such as the formation of a community of practice among monitoring groups. He also noted ongoing efforts by editors to legally challenge platforms’ lack of transparency and accountability regarding data access and content moderation.

Media support for citizens’ participation in democratic elections

Vusumuzi Sifile, Executive Director at Panos Institute Southern Africa

Vusumuzi Sifile emphasised the essential role of the media as a watchdog and conduit of information.

“I think we all know, and there is an agreement that the media in an election ought to be a watchdog. It ought to be a platform. It ought to be a conduit. It ought to provide information and public education. But there are times when we neglect the need to support the media to actually play that role, because for the media to advance citizens participation in democratic elections or any democratic processes, firstly, the media needs to have the capacity to play that role”

Vusumuzi highlighted Panos Institute’s efforts in enhancing media awareness and capacity-building around electoral processes, stressing the dangers of an uninformed media as a threat to democracy and the importance of having an informed media to prevent misinformation among citizens. He underscored the role of the media in promoting credible elections through access to accurate and timely information.

“Information is what I call the oxygen of electoral participation, and the media is the support system or conduit through which that oxygen gets to the different actors and through which the different actors get to understand and play their role.”

He concluded by advocating for stronger support and integration of media within democratic frameworks to uphold transparency and facilitate meaningful citizen engagement in electoral processes.

To learn more about how to support journalism and media, sign up for MediaDev Insider, your guide on supporting journalism and media from the Global Forum for Media Development and GFMD IMPACT. Join our growing community!


You are using an outdated browser which can not show modern web content.

We suggest you download Chrome or Firefox.