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Special Report on quality of access to national public broadcasting
stations between ZANU PF and MDC

February 26th - March 17th 2005
Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe (MMPZ)

March 20, 2005

A participatory democracy depends upon the electorate being able to make informed choices about who they wish to vote for. Media diversity is instrumental in providing this information. But in Zimbabwe where 60% of the people in the rural areas depend upon radio for information, all the electronic media are government-controlled.

  • This situation has remained, despite the fact that the Supreme Court ruled as unconstitutional the monopoly of the airwaves enjoyed by the national public broadcasting corporation (now known as ZBH) five years ago.
  • No other broadcasting entity has been allowed in Zimbabwe since then.
  • ZBH has been used as a propaganda tool for the ruling party in the last two national elections (2000 and 2002) and the referendum before that.
  • This situation persists today and only very limited access has been granted to the political opposition (see detailed study of airtime allocation below).

The SADC guidelines state that all political parties should be given equal access to the electronic media; Zimbabwe's regulations state that they should be given "equal opportunities" to access the public media with regard to the broadcast of election matter. Zimbabwe's regulations also state that news coverage of political parties during an election should be fair, balanced, accurate and complete.

In regard to both these regulations the situation is being severely distorted: While all the main political parties have been granted 12 minutes each to present their manifestoes (on ZTV), the presenter misinformed the public about the broadcast time for the MDC manifesto. The TV station stated that an independent candidate would present his manifesto at a certain time (1/3) but then broadcast the MDC manifesto. As a result, those wishing to hear what the MDC's policies were missed the presentation.

With regard to election programmes relating to interviews and discussion programmes aired by the national public broadcaster, these have been used to attack the opposition MDC, which has not been given a fair chance to respond to allegations made by the panelists. In one instance the transmission of an interview with a senior MDC official was suddenly lost to Bulawayo

(Zimbabwe's second city) and severely compromised in other main centres of the country, including Mutare. The ruling party has only appeared once in such discussion programmes and interviews compared to two times for the MDC.

News bulletins are heavily dominated by favourable coverage of ZANU PF campaign activities, while the MDC receive brief and inadequate reports, albeit generally neutral. Coverage of the ruling party activities frequently includes disparaging attacks against the MDC, which is not given the right of reply.

Coverage of ZANU PF and MDC on ZBH
The coverage of the country's two main political parties on the national broadcaster, ZBH, since the election period begun on February 26th till March 17th was heavily tilted in favour of ZANU PF. Apart from giving both ZANU PF and the MDC 12 minutes each to air their policies to the electorate, the broadcaster's news coverage of the two parties has favoured ZANU PF. For instance, of 142 reports on the broadcaster (ZTV, Power FM and Radio Zimbabwe) carried on the two parties' campaigns, 116 (82%) were on ZANU PF, while the remaining 26 (18%) were on the MDC. All reports on ZANU PF were positive pieces about the ruling party. While reports on the MDC were largely neutral, the party was denigrated in almost all the reports on ZANU PF campaigns.

The broadcaster's bias was also reflected in the time allocated to the two parties. Of the 2 hours and 22 minutes allocated to the two parties on ZTV's main 8pm bulletins 2 hours and four minutes (87%) minutes were devoted to ZANU PF campaign events while only 18 minutes was allocated to the MDC.

The lack of balance on ZBH's coverage of the two parties' activities was clearly illustrated by the manner the broadcaster handled the launch of their election campaigns. When ZANU PF launched its campaign on February 11, ZTV and Spot FM (11/2) changed their mid-morning programming to accommodate four hours of live coverage of the ruling party's event. On the same day ZTV allocated 18 minutes of its 8pm bulletin to the event. In addition, ZTV devoted 13 minutes 15 seconds in its subsequent evening news bulletins of February 12 and 13 to the ruling party's campaign launch. ZTV also carried 30-minute repeats of the event after its main bulletin on Friday (11/2) and on Sunday morning. Spot FM & Power FM adopted a similar trend. These stations each carried two reports of the launch on February 11. They then carried six reports of the event on February 12 and 13. Similarly, Radio Zimbabwe carried 10 stories on the launch between February 11th and February 13th. By comparison, the national broadcaster allocated 2 minutes 35 seconds to the MDC's election launch on ZTV's main news bulletin of February 20, the day of the event. Unlike ZANU PF's launch, no other reports of the event were carried in ZBH's subsequent news bulletins. Spot FM, Power FM and Radio Zimbabwe carried a single story each on the MDC launch in their main news bulletins on February 20. Power FM and Spot FM carried a repeat of the report the following morning.

Election programmes
Although ZTV has so far granted the MDC 1 hour and 30 minutes to feature in its interviews and discussion programmes, the time has been mainly used to try to embarrass and discredit the policies of the MDC. MDC officials were given inadequate time to express themselves as the panelists kept interjecting. Notably, the first discussion programme carried on ZTV and featuring the MDC's secretary for economic affairs, Tendai Biti, was only clearly transmitted in Harare and Masvingo after transmission was lost in Bulawayo and other southern districts immediately before the programme. Transmedia, the government-controlled signal carrier company, has never explained this unprecedented break in transmission - or the severe interference the ZBH signal suffered from in Mutare and other parts of the country, effectively obliterating the debate. In contrast, ZANU PF was treated differently in the 30-minute slot allocated to them so far. The ruling party official was given time to respond to questions with minimal interjections. In addition, the programme was mainly used to give the ruling party a platform to discredit MDC's policies and not to discuss ZANU PF's manifesto.

All election advertisements that have been broadcast so far on ZTV are from ZANU PF. These are carried mainly before the news, during newsbreaks and after all bulletins. Other parties have yet to advertise on ZTV. It is not clear whether they have chosen not to buy airtime, or because the prohibitive cost of buying advertising space has put advertising beyond the reach of the opposition. The trend is slightly different on ZBH's radio stations. Although ZANU PF also dominates advertising time, MDC advertisements have been featured on Power FM and Radio Zimbabwe. However, the adverts were generally fewer than those of the ruling party.

While other parties can only air their policies through buying advertising space, ZANU PF has the opportunity to sell its policies and vilify the MDC through songs that are incessantly played across all ZBH's radio stations. Most prominent is ZANU PF National Commissar Elliot Manyika's campaign album, whose song, Mbiri Yechigandanga, is on Power FM's Top 40 songs. The video of the song, which celebrates ZANU PF's liberation struggle credentials - the party's campaign theme - has also been played on ZTV's musical programme, Ezomgido.

Other programmes
ZBH has also used its current affairs programmes to amplify ZANU PF's policies. For instance, ZTV's Media Watch has given a platform to pro-ZANU PF analysts, such as the government-appointed Media and Information Commission chairman, Dr.Tafataona Mahoso, to defend the policies of the ruling party while disparaging the MDC. The MDC has never been given the opportunity to defend itself in the programme. The station also carries a 30-minute New Ziana programme on the liberation struggle every Sunday evening. Like Manyika's songs, the programme glorifies ZANU PF's liberation war record, which the party is using in its campaigns. Radio Zimbabwe and Spot FM also have similar programmes.

Clearly, ZBH is not living up to the spirit and letter of the SADC guidelines relating to equal access to the electronic media; nor is it complying with government regulations relating to fair and balanced coverage to the main contesting parties

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