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  • Zimbabwe's Elections 2013 - Index of Articles

  • Two wrongs don’t make a right
    Voluntary 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

    In reviewing the above-cited coverage, VMCZ took note of the following generic issues affecting the media:

    1. Hate language

    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:

    1.1.2 Media 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 affiliation.

    1.1.2 Media institutions must take utmost care to avoid contributing to the spread of ethnic hatred or political violence.

    2. Coverage 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 supported Zanu-PF.

    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.

    3. Partisan 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 pages.

    The promotion 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.

    4. Newspaper 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.

    7c) Comment 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.

    5. General

    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.

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