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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
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
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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