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Election Watch Issue 18 - 2013
The Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe
May 31, 2013

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Media rapped for bias

The reluctance by Zimbabwe’s mainstream media, particularly the government-controlled ones, to adhere to domestic and internationally recognized journalistic standards when it comes to reporting on different political views in the country has again been thrust in the spotlight. This time by Zimbabwe’s most senior political luminaries: President Mugabe and Prime Minister Tsvangirai.

Speaking after signing the Constitution Amendment Bill into law, Mugabe “took a swipe” at some unnamed sections of the media “for peddling lies and using his name to push their sales” (Daily News and Zi FM, 23/5). The President said: “Some are using my name to sell their papers. Mugabe this, Mugabe that; I am compiling all the Mugabe papers so that I claim compensation for making profit with my name.”

He added: “Our journalism must be journalism of truth; you are now being downgraded because you act like people who have never been to school. Don’t tell lies.”

Mugabe, however, singled out the State-run Herald for being “obsessed” with Tsvangirai: “Herald yakananganawo naVaTsvangirai (is targeting Tsvangirai)” – The Daily News and Zi FM (23/5) Three days earlier, The Herald, Newsday and Daily News (20/5) reported Tsvangirai as having raised similar complaints against the State-run media during the launch of his party's national policy conference in Harare.

They quote Tsvangirai: “You cannot have a newspaper with six articles saying Tsvangirai this and Tsvangirai that. Every day! Regai vakadaro. But musi umwe gava richadambura musungo (one day you will meet you fate).” Tsvangirai added: “That kind of a media has no future in a democratic Zimbabwe. I want to tell you this. Muchadya izvozvo”.

Subsequently, The Herald (22/5) ran a news report and an editorial comment projecting Tsvangirai as having threatened to “close” the paper. The news report was accompanied by calls from media representative bodies such as Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) and the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), discouraging political interference in the activities of the media.

One of these, ZUJ secretary general Foster Dongozi was quoted: “We appeal to him (Tsvangirai) to protect the jobs of some journalists and their welfare. We are appealing to him to protect them from today and in the future. If the PM is not happy with the way other media organizations are reporting on him and his party, there are other avenues that he can take to seek recourse and not to threaten to close newspapers.”

MMPZ fully subscribes to ZUJ’s position that politicians have no business in interfering or threatening media houses considering that there already exist laws that provide more than adequate redress to those whose reputations may have been harmed by false or inaccurate reporting.

It would be tragic if these ‘grievances’ against the media by the politicians were to be used as ammunition by those seeking excuses to further control media activity in Zimbabwe to add more legal constraints – in addition to the already battery of repressive media laws – to continue to stifle media freedom in the country.

However, it is equally important to state that the media should also seriously take aboard genuine grievances from the public, not least from politicians, as a way of promoting accountability and responsible journalism in the media houses. That is as long as the complaints are not designed to muzzle the media from playing its role of fully informing the public about national developments, accountability in government and the private sector, and those issues of public interest.

This is especially so as there is growing evidence of the media in Zimbabwe exhibiting varying degrees of bias and intolerance against those they do not share the same political views with. These include individuals, political parties, civic groups, and some sections of the international community.

And with the country heading for yet another election, media organizations and some parties have been complaining about an escalation of biased media reportage by the media, some of which amounts to hate speech. Some of this unprofessional journalistic conduct has been recorded elsewhere in this report.

This development is indeed a sad state of affairs – and a vindication of the media wasteland Zimbabwe has become – when it has become the norm for the public, including the President and the Prime Minister of the country – to predict unerringly which media outlet will carry which political point of view.

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