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  • Zimbabwe's Elections 2013 - Index of Articles

  • MMPZ comments on ZEC's election period reminder to the media
    The Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe
    June 21, 2013

    MMPZ commends the timely counsel to media houses by Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) chairperson Rita Makarau to uphold professional journalistic standards in their reportage of the upcoming harmonized elections.

    Addressing a Press conference on June 17th to update journalists on the organization’s preparations for the elections, the ZEC boss reminded journalists they had an obligation to report elections in a fair, balanced and accurate manner. Following the proclamation of the election date, the Chairperson reminded Zimbabwe’s media houses that this marked the start of an “election period” and that they should immediately comply with the country’s electoral laws by giving all political parties fair and equitable coverage (The Herald, 18/6).

    Makarau advised media organizations that ZEC would be “closely monitoring the coverage of political issues in the media”.

    Although a recent SADC meeting of heads of State proposed that government seek an extension to the July 31st poll date to accommodate reforms envisaged under the Global Political Agreement as proposed by Zanu-PF’s coalition partners, Makarau said ZEC was pressing ahead with its election preparations as it was “guided by the principle that the date of elections holds until the proclamation fixing it is lawfully rescinded or amended”
    (The Herald 18/6).

    Makarau cited Sections 160J and 160K of the Electoral Act, under which her commission derives the mandate to monitor the media’s election coverage to ensure fair and equitable publicity to contestants as stipulated under domestic and regional guidelines.

    Section 160J provides that ZEC, with the assistance of media regulatory bodies, the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) and the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ), monitor news media in election periods to ensure equitable treatment of all political parties and candidates as stipulated under Section 160k.

    However, while ZEC’s call for media houses to report responsibly in their coverage of elections promotes public confidence in the electoral process, it is our hope that this call will be followed by concrete actions to censure offenders across the media divide. This will be critical in ensuring a departure from the intolerable bias demonstrated by the public and state-owned media in the run-up to the June 27 2008 elections.

    MMPZ encourages ZEC, ZMC and BAZ to formulate and enforce criteria to ensure equitable coverage of parties and candidates in the election period.

    In addition, it will be imperative for ZEC to formulate a code of conduct for the content of direct access in the media to prevent advertisements of inflammatory and defamatory material as well as set limits on the amount of private advertising allowed for each political party or candidate. This will minimize undue advantage to those parties with extensive campaign funds. These recommendations are critical given that there has been no let up in the biased coverage, especially in the State-run media. This is despite provisions calling for responsible and ethical media conduct under the GPA and contained in the Zimbabwe Elections Roadmap, signed by Zimbabwe’s political negotiators to the agreement on July 6th, 2011.

    According to MMPZ’s monitoring from June 1st to June 15th – during the first 15 days of the “Election Period” 23 of the 26 stories the state-controlled media carried on the activities of the MDC-T portrayed the party in bad light. Only three reports (these comprised three of ZTV’s six reports on MDC-T) were balanced and were all reported in the context of the Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee’s (Jomic’s) launch of the Electoral Code of Conduct for parties and unified calls for peace before, during and after elections. The 20 reports in the state newspapers (The Herald and Sunday Mail) all denigrated the MDC-T and its leadership.

    In contrast, Zanu-PF received favourable coverage in all 27 reports that appeared in the state-controlled media (15 in The Herald and Sunday Mail, 12 on ZTV’s main evening news bulletins). The stories were on the party’s readiness ahead of the harmonised elections.

    The smaller MDC formation, led by Industry Minister Welshman Ncube, received publicity in three balanced stories. Notably, these reports (all on ZTV’s main evening news bulletins) were all reported in the context of JOMIC’s launch of the electoral code of conduct for political parties (The Herald and Sunday Mail ignored the Ncube faction in this period). Such unprincipled conduct by the state-controlled media even drew the indignation of the President last month.

    Speaking after signing the Constitution Amendment Bill into law on May 22nd, Mugabe singled out The Herald for being “obsessed” with Tsvangirai: “Herald yakananganawo naVaTsvangirai (is targeting Tsvangirai)”, The Daily News and Zi FM reported (23/5).

    In more recent days, such bias has continued in these media and ZTV’s current affairs programme, African Pride, especially its edition of June 13th – repeated on June 20th contained offensive, racist hate language that labeled Zanu-PF’s political opposition “sell-outs” and collaborators of “murderers”, and that anybody voting for these groups were “equally guilty” of betraying Zimbabwe’s sovereignty and struggle for independence. (A transcription of this is available upon request).

    Such false and aggressive invective breeds a culture of intolerance and hatred that nurtures political violence and has no place in any democracy, let alone an “election period”.

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