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  • Zimbabwe's Elections 2013 - Index of Articles

  • No credible election without media reform
    Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations (ZACRAS)
    July 09, 2013

    Now that political parties are geared for elections scheduled for this month end, our concern as community radio movement remains that there is limited platforms for citizens to interact with political parties and the political players so as to engage in politics of substance as is required. It is amazing that even in the manifestoes of the two major political gladiators, there is very little if any attention paid to media reform issues. It must be understood that it is not about these political parties to have a reformed media landscape where free expression and access to information for citizens is the norm rather than an exception - but it is for citizens.

    When you look at the manifestoes of these political parties, they are voluminous with a lot of detail in terms of plans and what these parties offer. In democratic societies, citizens must be informed about what these documents contain in order for them to make informed political choices. It is unfortunate that parties launched their manifestoes three weeks before an important election as the one we face. This means that with the supposed public broadcaster ZBC reduced to a mere political mouthpiece by the ruling party Zanu-PF, and most of our mainstream media as polarized, our communities will be deprived of critical information regarding this process.

    We believe that there should have been practical media reforms allowing community broadcasting such that citizens are able to localize, simplify, share and debate the contents and offers of these political parties. It is not fair and it amounts to taking citizens for granted to throw an election to the people so they make decisions based on ignorance. Community radios unlike other forms of broadcasting media, allow communities to engage and interact with topical issues as they affect them and help each other make sense and relate to their daily situations. Imagine a situation where in Binga, they have their own community radio and are able to take both Zanu-PF and MDC-T manifestoes to debate and say which one addresses our key issues or Gumbonzvanda community doing the same.

    We are worried about this kind of political behaviour which borders on lack of respect for our citizens and this is worrisome because in March, it also happened with the constitutional referendum when citizens were only afforded less than three weeks to acquaint with the then draft constitution which was developed over a period of four months. Both the major political parties i.e. Zanu-PF and MDC-T did not see any irregularity with that and it is becoming a way of doing things for our government.

    Can the responsible authority, ministries of media and information and transport, Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ), Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) ensure that the community radio initiatives scattered all over Zimbabwe are licenced and allowed to broadcasts immediately if we are to have credible election based on politics of substance. There is no reason for Zanu-PF to maintain resistance on broadcasting media reform.

    The legitimacy and credibility of any election should be determined by the extend citizens have been free not only to cast their vote, but also to what extend were they free to access critical information regarding the whole election system. Otherwise, we are forced to dismiss this election as a sham before it even happens. Why is our government afraid of its own people? We realize both Zanu-PF and MDC T present their manifestoes as if the documents are for the people when we all know that they are for them as political parties. If these were truly for the people why are they not playing an active role in ensuring that the platforms that enable citizens (supposed owners of manifestoes) interact with them? As ZACRAS we warn both Zanu-PF and MDC-T that they risk engaging in an election which will be meaningless if citizens are not actively involved. Political parties must remember that the media reforms we talk about or any other reforms for that matter are not for them so that they win elections or lose them, but they are for citizens to have a better quality of life. And these parties are not doing us a favour by engaging in politics; instead they must be informed by public interest and not by desire to gain power or fear to lose it.

    In many democracies, information related to political parties and their manifestoes will be everywhere for citizens to debate long before the actual election date. This is because they have a vibrant media including a broadcasting media with a three tier broadcasting system. They have a truly public broadcaster, a truly commercial broadcasting and most importantly, they have a functioning and a really community based community broadcasting sector.

    In the same vein, may we have the ZBC released from the hands of the Zanu-PF so that it is free and not that it gets in the hands of some other political party, lest some parties may want to grab it. It (ZBC) must serve public interest and not at any time political party interests. In the same token, all of us must know that no political party is good to the media including those that pretend to be democratic. We must as Zimbabweans never entrust political parties with the media including opposition political players.

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