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Zimbabwe's election roadmap riddled with potholes
The Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe
July 29, 2011

MMPZ notes with concern that the so-called Zimbabwe Elections Roadmap With Timelines, concluded and signed by Zimbabwean negotiators to the Global Political Agreement (GPA) on July 6th, 2011 is more indicative of the disagreements between Zimbabwe's coalition parties than a clear "roadmap" to free and fair elections.

In fact, it is a catalogue of the potholes that are certain to be encountered before any referendum or national elections are held rather than being an agreement on how those obstacles can be overcome.

Apart from total disagreement over sections relating to electoral and security sector reforms among other issues, MMPZ notes that the earlier agreement between the coalition partners to reconstitute the boards of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) and the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) and trustees of the Mass Media Trust, which is supposed to oversee the operations of the state-run print media, have also become casualties of this flawed negotiating process.

Instead of setting strict time-lines for the reformation of these boards, the parties have agreed to "defer" this essential prerequisite to democratic elections indefinitely.

This is disappointing. While the parties have agreed to start work immediately on persuading host governments to close down radio stations broadcasting news about Zimbabwe into the country from overseas, the critical issues of establishing an independent domestic public broadcaster and broadcasting authority have been set aside.

Latest revelations by Media and Information Secretary George Charamba that government would not amend the notorious Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) until the constitution-making process is complete also exposed this reluctance by the ZANU PF arm of government to institute genuine media reforms (The Herald, 22/7).

Charamba made his remarks while giving evidence to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Media, Information and Communications Technology on the ministry's half-year budget performance last week.

Charamba's comments came barely two weeks after BAZ chairman Tafataona Mahoso told the same parliamentary committee that the authority would only advertise for new television players in 2013, extinguishing any hope of having a new, independent television station in Zimbabwe before the next elections (Daily News, 8/7).

The observations by Charamba and Mahoso represent a slap in the face of the GPA, which compels the three coalition parties to reform the country's media landscape and open up the airwaves to allow a diverse community of new and independent broadcasters.

However, nearly three years after the signing of this political agreement, no privately owned radio or television station has yet been licensed.

The feeble excuse Mahoso reportedly gave for this incessant delay was that Zimbabwe needed "a new regulatory framework to change from the current monologue system to the digital system" before registering new players (Daily News, 8/7).

This is nothing less than a pathetic attempt to hide behind false technical arguments to stave off promised reforms in the broadcasting sector.

But MMPZ commends those members of the parliamentary committee who recognized this when they expressed their concern over BAZ's apparent indifference to reform. The Daily News reported the MPs as having been "angered" by BAZ's attitude, as they felt that the regulatory body was "deliberately delaying" issuing new licences to new players. This is because the same authority "once appeared before the committee in 2009 making commitments that they will fulfil their mandate to licence new players in the broadcasting sector".

One of them, Edward Musumbu (Norton MP) said: "There seems to be dillydallying with whatever they (BAZ) are telling us as a committee. You are not serious with whatever you are doing. You don't seem to want to open the airwaves and you don't seem to want to issue licences to new players".

MMPZ regards the excuses to delay reforms given by Charamba and Mahoso as a strategy to retain the monopoly of the airwaves by the national broadcaster, ZBC. This attitude vindicates and reinforces civil society's demands that the government of national unity urgently implements the media reforms promised under the provisions of the GPA. A starting point would be to implement immediately those issues that have already been agreed - namely the reconstitution of state media boards, which are responsible for implementing most of the reforms, so that the country's media environment - and especially broadcasting - does not remain the monopolistic wasteland that ZBC has made it today.

A progressive media and information sector would allow Zimbabweans to freely express themselves, especially during the forthcoming referendum and elections - an essential element in deciding whether those elections are free and fair.

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