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wrongs don’t make a right
Media Council of Zimbabwe
July 29, 2013
Welcome to the
second publication of the VMCZ Ethics Analysis column. This column
is based on a reading of media stories in the preceding week and
draws a parallel to Sections 10 and 11 of the VMCZ Media
Code of Conduct which outline the expected professional conduct
of the media during electoral periods.
The column will
today focus on the media’s coverage of election related issues
from 22 July to 28 July 2013. The VMCZ analysed stories from various
media houses including the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC)
television and the five daily newspapers, namely, News Day, The
Herald, The Chronicle, The Southern Eye and the Daily News.
The Media Ethics
Committee (MEC) is concerned with the continued use of hate speech
by both the private and public media. The committee calls on the
media to desist from using hate language in its coverage
of issues during this election period. It is for this reason
that the MEC wishes to remind all state and private media houses
as well as journalists of the philosophical adage, ‘two wrongs
do not make a right.’
The MEC also
identified the major issues covered by the media over the last week
as being the following:
i) Hate speech
ii) Coverage of political party campaigns
iii) Partisan coverage by media institutions of electoral processes
iv) Newspaper endorsements of political parties
the above-cited coverage, VMCZ took note of the following generic
issues affecting the media:
1.1 With a few
days before the harmonised elections are held there is a marked
increase in hate language in the newspaper pages of all the daily
newspapers. The MEC urges the three daily newspaper editors to ensure
that inflammatory language is not used by reporters during the election
period in accordance with Article 10 of the VMCZ code of conduct
which stipulates that:
practitioners and media institutions must not publish material that
is intended or is likely to engender hostility or hatred towards
persons on the grounds of their race, ethnic origin, nationality,
gender, sexual orientation, physical disability, religion or political
institutions must take utmost care to avoid contributing to the
spread of ethnic hatred or political violence.
of political party campaigns
2.1 The committee
also noted with grave concern the biased coverage of political party
campaigns. The committee noted that the media in their coverage
concentrated and gloated on attendance numbers at political party
rallies. The MEC was concerned with exaggerations in numbers at
political parties and urges newspapers in the country to be objective
when reporting figures at political rallies.
2.2 The MEC
also expressed concern with national broadcaster ZTV’s continued
live coverage of Zanu-PF rallies while largely ignoring activities
of other main political parties. ZTV covered all rallies conducted
by President Mugabe while none of the other contesting political
parties received live coverage of their rallies. The MEC reiterates
that this conduct by ZTV represents a gross violation of Zimbabwe's
electoral laws governing the media's coverage of election issues,
as all political parties, according to the act are supposed to receive
fair and equitable coverage from the public broadcaster.
2.3 All five
daily newspaper’s coverage of political rallies has not improved
as each newspaper favourably took sides with its preferred political
party. The private newspapers favourably covered the MDCs while
the state controlled media openly reported from a position that
It is therefore
recommended that all newspapers and ZBC should strive to be accurate,
fair and balanced in the manner in which they cover political events
in this electoral period.
coverage by media institutions of electoral issues
3.1 The committee
noted with great concern the print media’s open partisan coverage
of political candidates in their leader pages and in opinion pieces.
The MEC noted that front page editorial comments and feedback sections
in most newspapers have been used to heighten hate speech in all
the newspapers reviewed under the period.
3.2 The committee
urges editors to examine all letters to the editor, comments and
opinions that promote hatred and incite violence from their newspaper
of violence, use of hate speech and inflammatory language violates
the VMCZ’s Code of Conduct as it breaches Sections 10 &
11 of the code.
endorsements of political parties/candidates
4.1 In the week
under review some newspapers, including weekly newspapers, carried
front page comments where they openly endorsed presidential candidates
while castigating those they did not prefer. The MEC urges caution
in such endorsements which should be guided more by the ideological
persuasion of the papers in question and factual considerations
of whatever party a paper endorses has policies that are in accordance
with the considered values of the media house.
4.2 The MEC
also reminds editors of newspapers of their obligation to promote
peace in the country and refers the editors to Section 7b and 7c
of the VMCZ code of conduct which read:
7b) A comment
or expression of opinion must be a genuine and honest comment or
expression of opinion relating to established fact.
or conjecture must not be presented in such a way as to create the
impression that it is established fact.
The MEC while
acknowledging that newspapers can back policies of certain candidates
or parties, they however, have an obligation to provide accurate,
truthful and balanced information to their readers to enable them
to make informed choices based on correct information.
This is a rule
that cannot however, apply to the public broadcaster, ZBC which
is mandated to give equitable coverage to all parties that are contesting
in the harmonised elections on Wednesday 31 July 2013.
The MEC lauds
efforts by all five daily newspapers on their effort to preach peace.
The committee also feels that most newspapers adequately interpreted
provisions of the electoral law in their media coverage during the
period under review. It is critical for the media as the fourth
estate to strive to uphold its watchdog role and be a unifying force
that informs the public on elections in a manner that is balanced,
fair and accurate.
The Media Ethics
Committee reiterates that the media should cover the elections in
a fair, accurate, balanced and truthful manner in order to retain
public trust in the media’s coverage of the election period.
If members of the public are not happy with any story published
by the media in Zimbabwe they are free to lodge a complaint with
the VMCZ’s Media Complaints Committee.
the VMCZ fact
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