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  • Zimbabwe's Elections 2013 - Index of Articles

  • Media ethics analysis column: 05 August – 13 August 2013
    Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe
    August 14, 2013

    ‘A nation at crossroads’

    Welcome to the fourth publication of the VMCZ Media Ethics Column on the media‘s conduct for the July 31 2013 harmonised elections period.

    The column’s assessment would be based on a reading of media stories from 05 August to 13 August 2013.

    The VMCZ Media Ethics Committee analysed stories from various media houses that include the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) television and the five daily newspapers, namely, NewsDay, The Herald, The Chronicle, The Southern Eye and the Daily News.

    The Media Ethics Committee (MEC) noted that stories covered during the week under review dwelled mainly on the court challenge of the electoral outcome by the MDC-T. The newspapers also extensively devoted time to cover the congratulatory messages that came in from countries that congratulated President Mugabe on winning the elections.

    The MEC noted with concern the continuing polarization in the media and the partisan coverage of issues by both the public and private media.

    The MEC expresses concern with the manner in which ZBC continues deprive a voice to those political parties who suffered defeat during the harmonized elections.

    Thus one of the major challenges still remaining during the post electoral period is the issue of media polarisation.

    Although the MEC is concerned with polarization, it is also equally concerned by media institutions bent on escalating tension. This is evidenced by the use of inflammatory language and character assassinating that is taking place when reportage is made of particular candidates that contested the harmonized elections.

    On post election challenges and endorsements the MEC identified the major issues covered by the media over the preceding week as being the following:

    i) Unbalanced coverage by the state broadcaster
    ii) Abuse of editorial comment for political activism
    iii) Journalists being in the frontline in fanning political hatred

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

    1. Unbalanced coverage by broadcast media

    The peacekeeping role played by the media before and during elections is undisputed. However, the MEC has noted with great concern attempts by the media to evoke tension through inflammatory language which pokes and provokes other political parties.

    Notably images diminishing political leaders who did not make it in this year’s elections have been rampant. In some sections of the media, there have been reports that foment and incites citizens to demonstrate against the outcome of the elections. The MEC views this as promoting violence and states that such reportage breaches the Code of Conduct for media practitioners and institutions in Zimbabwe.

    2. Abuse of editorial comments for political activism

    The MEC noted with great concern the abuse of the editorial pages. The editorial pages in most newspapers were used either to castigate the electoral process or to mock defeated parties and candidates through inflammatory language. The MEC would like to remind media institutions and practitioners of Section 4(v) of the code of conduct which that states:

    4(v) Media institutions must endeavour to provide full, fair and balanced reports of events and must not suppress essential information pertaining to those events. They must not distort information by exaggeration, by giving only one side of a story, by placing improper emphasis on one aspect of a story, by reporting the facts out of the context in which they occurred or by suppressing relevant available facts. They must avoid using misleading headlines or billboard postings.

    3. Journalists being in the frontline in fanning political hatred

    MEC also noted a trend where journalists in the majority of newspapers analysed were fanning political hatred through concentrating on negative stories. The stories generated in most newspapers were divisive, partisan and lacked the nation building focus that is required at this point in time. The committee urges editors from both the private and the public media to encourage reporters within the newsrooms to desist from creating divisions in the country.

    4. General

    MEC however, noted that all newspapers in the country covered the court electoral disputes in a fair manner. The committee commends the media for the informative role and urges them to continue with the professionalism. As the “fourth estate” the media should uphold its peacekeeping role and be the unifying factor in this period marred by political tensions emanating from the outcome of this year’s much contested elections.

    If members of the public are not happy with any story published by the media in Zimbabwe on any election related matter they are free to lodge a complaint with the VMCZ’s Media Complaints Committee.

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