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This article participates on the following special index pages:

  • Senate Elections Results & Index of articles


  • Senate election countdown
    Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ)
    Weekly Media Update 2005-39
    Monday October 10th Ė Sunday October 16th 2005

    AS the country prepares for Senate elections in November, recent High Court rulings on three MDC court petitions challenging the result of the March 2005 parliamentary election have confirmed opposition and civil society claims that ZANU PF used food and violence to coerce the rural electorate to vote for it.

    In the judgment on the MDC challenge to the victory of Security Minister Didymus Mutasa in Makoni North (The Herald, 11/10), Justice Rita Makarau said she was "satisfied" that "throughout the constituency, villagers were threatened with the withholding of food and agricultural inputs if they were inclined to the opposition party". She however, ruled that despite such evidence and "sporadic acts of violence and intimidation", which showed that the people of Makoni North "were robbed of a free election", Mutasa had been duly elected because he "could not be impugned for corrupt acts of overzealous party supporters who might have been on frolics of their own and were not his agents".

    In another court petition, SW Radio Africa (17/10) reported that Justice Mafios Cheda had found that ZANU PF had used violence and food as campaign tools in Bubi-Umguza constituency, but still upheld Trade Minister Obert Mpofuís victory. The electronic news agency ZimOnline (18/10) also revealed that Justice Nicholas Ndou had endorsed the victory of Deputy Tourism Minister Andrew Langa despite "overwhelming credibility" in the allegations by the MDCís candidate for Insiza, Siyabonga Malandu-Ncube, that the ruling party had used food and violence to win the seat.

    Although the Chronicle (18/10) reported the Cheda and Ndou rulings, it censored the judgesí observations about the violence and manipulation of food relief to win support for ZANU PF. ZBH ignored the rulings altogether.

    Despite these judicial findings, none of the media have investigated whether the authorities had put in place measures to ensure that the Senate elections are not held in the same poisoned and corrupt electoral environment. This is particularly pertinent in light of fresh allegations by SW Radio Africa (12/10) that residents of Mabvuku and other surrounding areas of Harare were complaining that ZANU PF militia had started "door-to-door" campaigns aimed at "intimidating them to vote for the ruling party in the upcoming senate poll".

    For the second week running, the media was again distracted by the damaging split in the opposition MDC to investigate the administrative transparency of the impending election in the 76 stories they carried on the matter. ZBH carried 14 reports (ZTV 4, Power FM 5, Radio Zimbabwe 5), Studio 7 22 and SW Radio Africa three, while the government papers carried 23 stories and the private Press 14.

    As a result, the public remained ignorant about important administrative electoral matters such as the state of the votersí roll. Worse still, none of the media followed up an announcement on ZTV (13/10 8PM) that "the voters roll would close for inspection on October 16th 2005." While Radio Zimbabwe and Power FM censored news of this sudden deadline, there was no previous public information about how and where voters could inspect the roll. Most of the media failed to question this glaring lack of transparency by the electoral authorities, in particular, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.

    Only Studio 7 (13/10) quoted Zanu-Ndonga leader Wilson Kumbula saying, "Our office has been to the Registrar-Generalís office for the past three weeks enquiring about those conditions and have been referred to the ZEC office which is saying it doesnít know anything."

    Only the private media reported dispassionately on the split in the MDC over the decision by its president, Morgan Tsvangirai, to overrule the 33:31 vote by his National Executive Council to participate in the election. The government media seized the opportunity to crusade against Tsvangirai and portray him as undemocratic, thereby obliterating both his side of the story and the principal reasons that sparked the row in the opposition party in the first place.

    They only reported sympathetically on the MDC faction calling for participation.

    For example, The Herald (13/10) comment, Rescue MDC from Tsvangirai, dismissed the opposition leaderís decision to overrule NECís vote as a "senseless stance" by a "desperate" leader who represented "no one, but his own selfish interests" and subverting "the democratic process so many of our people died for".

    In fact, the official papers carried 14 editorials denigrating Tsvangirai as a coward, among other unflattering observations, while simultaneously presenting his rivals in the party as prudent.

    This was mostly reflected by their failure to balance comments from those advocating participation with voices from Tsvangiraiís camp. For instance, of the 26 MDC voices The Herald and The Sunday Mail quoted, 17 were for participation while nine were against.

    The government Pressí voice distribution is shown on Fig 1.

    Fig 1. Voice distribution in the public Press

    Govt

    ZEC

    Alternative

    Ordinary people

    Lawyer

    Zanu PF

    MDC

    Foreign

    Unnamed

    5

    4

    4

    1

    2

    17

    43

    2

    2

    ZBH followed suit. All its five stories were prejudiced against Tsvangirai.

    For example, Power FM and Radio Zimbabwe (15/10, 6am) passively quoted President Mugabe belittling Tsvangirai as a "coward" who was "not interested in representing the will of the opposition but that of the British" during a campaign in Nketa, Bulawayo.

    In contrast, ZBH devoted 11 stories to reporting favourably on ZANU PF senatorial campaigns.

    The discriminatory nature in which the national broadcaster reported on the MDC and ZANU PF activities was mirrored in its sourcing pattern as shown in Fig 2.

    Fig 2 Voice distribution on ZBH

    ZANU PF

    MDC

    Alternative

    10

    0

    2

    The two alternative voices recorded campaigned against Tsvangiraiís boycott call.

    Similarly, the official Press published eight stories that positively projected ZANU PFís preparations for the Senate elections. They, like ZBH, never investigated the disagreements that previously erupted over the ruling partyís criteria to select candidates as reported in The Financial Gazette (6/10) or questioned the worth of some of the candidates.

    The private media provided diversified coverage of the senate issue. Although they, like the government media, barely carried voter information stories, they presented a balanced interpretation of the divisions rocking the MDC. This was demonstrated by their varied sourcing pattern, which included comments from the warring parties, alternative voices and even ruling party officials as shown in Fig 3 and 4.

    Fig 3. Voice distribution in the private Press

    Alternative

    ZANU PF

    Govt

    Other opposition

    MDC

    Lawyer

    ZEC

    Foreign

    11

    6

    1

    1

    25

    6

    1

    1

    Fig 4. Voice distribution on Studio 7

    ZANU PF

    MDC

    Alternative

    Other opposition

    3

    13

    10

    1

    Studio 7 particularly represented this diversity. It alone carried 10 stories on the MDCís divergent views on the Senate poll and six reports on civic society and the ruling partyís opinion on the matter. Tsvangirai told the station (12/10) that his decision was "not about whether it is right to accept that (NEC) decision or not" but that as party leader he had to break the "stalemate".

    However, Studio 7 quoted the partyís David Coltart (14/10) saying that Tsvangiraiís views did not give him the right to "override decisions" by the NEC because this violated article 5.4.9 of the partyís constitution, adding that although section 6:12 of the constitution generally empowered the MDC leader to "act as spokesperson of the party on major policy issues" it did not authorize him to act against the "partyís principle of open, transparent and democratic decision-making".

    The Daily Mirror (13/10) reported this story similarly.

    Studio 7 and SW Radio Africa carried five reports in which civic organisations such the National Constitutional Assembly, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition and the Zimbabwe National Association of Students Unions unanimously welcoming Tsvangiraiís boycott decision. For example, SW Radio Africa (13/10) quoted ZCTU secretary-general Wellington Chibhebhe, saying; "the whole Senate debate is a sheer waste of time, and simply an offshoot of ZANU PFís desire to accommodate its peers."

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