Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

2018 elections: ZBC under spotlight

By Maxwell Sibanda

As the 2018 harmonised elections loom, the public media and in particular ZBC has come under the spotlight as it is being called to be fair when covering political parties contesting in the poll. The Daily News spoke to a number of analysts to hear what they would expect from ZBC’s television and radio stations.

An armored military vehicle is parked outside the state-run Zimbabwean Broadcasting Corporation building in Harare Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017 as soldiers patrol streets. Zimbabwe’s army said it has President Robert Mugabe and his wife in custody and is securing government offices and patrolling the capital’s streets following a night of unrest that included a military takeover of the state broadcaster. (AP Photo)

Legislator Jessie Majome said even though she unfairly lost her constitutional application on this, she still expects the ZBC and all State- funded media to obey section 61(4) of the Constitution.

“ZBC should be independent, impartial and not subject to the control of Zanu PF or the junta government.

“I also expect the State especially through the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) to fulfil its duty in section 155(3) of the Constitution to ensure that all contesting parties and candidates (and not just Zanu PF) have equal access to fair coverage in the private and public private and public media.

“Failure of this constitutes an unfair and unfree election. Unfortunately, with less than six months to the election there’s no evidence of efforts towards that so we already have the makings of unfree and unfair elections,” said Majome.

Analyst Rashweat Mukundu said the ZBC must be allowed editorial independence meaning non-interference in its reporting by the ministry of Information.

“The ZBC governing statutes must be reviewed to guarantee its independence as a public broadcaster and this is only possible if the umbilical cord tying the ZBC to the government is cut.

“Above all the ZBC needs an editorial charter that enunciates its public service role and ensures that programming reflects the broad diversity of the political and social voices in Zimbabwe.

“The ZBC also need capacity in terms of staff skills and equipment to carry out its work effectively this on the basis of an acceptable public service charter supported by policies that buttress its independence,” said Mukundu.

He said a visit to any of the ZBC studios tells the story of rot and misery that ZBC journalists work under.

Mukundu said those who benefit from partisan reporting may smile for a season but as have been noted with the rapid political developments and changes in Zimbabwe, darkness soon comes.

“Zimbabwe’s interests are better served by a media that represents all and policy makers have an opportunity to create a lasting legacy rather than be remembered along the lines of Iraq’s Comic Ali, Nazi Germany’s Joseph Gobbels and Peter Van DerByl the notorious Rhodesian minister of Propaganda.”

MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu believes ZBC radio and television are still neck deep in the old order.

“They are operating as if Zimbabwe is a de facto one party State. There is virtual zero coverage of the activities of any other political party other than the ruling Zanu PF party.

“It’s indeed a tragedy. ZBC is in total and brazen violation of its constitutional obligation as a public broadcaster.

“Personally, I have had two television interviews with ZBC TV recently on the subject of free and fair elections as well as on the appointment of Justice Priscilla Chigumba as the new Zec chairperson.

“Both these interviews were never shown on national television. This just goes to show how unreformed the ZBC remains,” complained Gutu.

He added that there is an urgent need to completely overhaul the ZBC’s editorial thrust and news content to prevent them from operating as a full — time Zanu PF propaganda mouthpiece.

“Star FM is a bit better than the ZBC. At least they regularly invite us for radio interviews such as the Late Night Politics show that is hosted by George Msumba every Monday evening.

“However, there is still room for improvement in the manner in which the Star FM news bulletins are structured because they generally come across as pro-Zanu PF.

“We really have got a very long way to go in terms of how the public – owned media should cover the activities of all political players in Zimbabwe,” said Gutu.

Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said what people expect from a public broadcaster bankrolled by tax payers’ money is that it accords all competing political parties equal and fair airtime.

“They should be doing voter education radio and TV programmes that inform voters about their rights what to know before during and after elections.

“They should be hosting radio and television talk shows and round tables where all competing parties unpack their manifestos and policies.

“They should be giving ample time to voters to question aspiring candidates who promise not air to explain how they will fulfil their promises. This is what they should be doing and not stalking Amai (Auxillia) Mnangagwa or being part of a campaign architecture for Zanu PF,” said Saungweme.

Political analyst MacDonald Lewanika said public broadcast must give fair and equal coverage to all cons ting parties and voices.

“At the moment watching ZBC gives the impression that there is only one party in Zimbabwe, one party having meetings and preparing for elections and so on.

“The role of the media is to allow voters to make informed decisions and that can only happen when all competing parties are given coverage on the news, allowed to make their pitches on public affairs programs and given advertising space at prime time,” said Lewanika.

He added that ZBC is a public broadcaster established through an act of Parliament unlike Star FM.

“To this end, ZBC is financed through public funds therefore calling for an imperative need for its transformation into a genuine public broadcaster rather than the current state where it behaves and is a state broadcaster.”

Misa-Zimbabwe director Tabani Moyo said ZBC must, in practice, be an independent corporate body, established to serve the overall public interest without interference from any quarter.

“In its bid to provide broadcasting services, it should ensure full respect for freedom of expression, promote the free flow of information and ideas, assist people to make informed decisions and facilitate and strengthen democracy.

“As part of its mandate, ZBC should among other key issues: Provide universal access to its services with its signal seeking to reach all corners of the country and ensuring and making services available in all the official languages of the country.

“Provide access to a wide range of information and ideas from the various sectors of society and reflect, as comprehensively as possible, the range of opinions on matters of public interest and of social, political, philosophical, religious, scientific and artistic trends.

“Report on news and current affairs in a way which is not influenced by political, commercial or other special interests.

“Contribute to economic, social and cultural development in the country by providing a credible forum for democratic debate on how to meet common challenges.

“Provide credible, quality and varied programming for all interests, those of the general public as well as minority audiences, children, women, the youth and people living with disabilities, irrespective of religious beliefs, political persuasion, culture, race and gender.

“Promote and develop local content. Some of these responsibilities are clearly outlined in the Broadcasting Services Act’s Part 1 of the Seventh Schedule outlining programming requirements for public broadcasters. ZBC should thus uphold the law,” said Moyo.

He said ZBC should have policies that ensure its protection from any form of outside interference or attempts to compromise its independence.

“This is particularly so in matters concerning the content of its output, its editorial policy, the times and manner in which its output is supplied and in the management of all of its other affairs.

“Over the years, the monitoring of the public broadcaster by media freedom lobby groups has indicated its lack of editorial independence, partisan coverage or complete censorship of national events, a violation of the broadcasting law in particular part 1(d) of the Seventh Schedule. It compels ZBC to ‘provide news and public affairs programming which meets the highest standards of journalism, and which is fair and unbiased and independent from government, commercial or other interests’.

“Therefore, as the Constitutional Court (Con Court)noted, ZBC ‘is not permitted but required to exercise independent editorial discretion and judgment in the performance of the functions necessary for the fulfilment of its journalistic purpose and statutory obligations.’ This can only happen if the broadcaster is liberated from state control and allowed to operate freely and accountable to the public.”

Moyo said the court also noted the adverse effects of State ownership of ZBC in its exercise of duty.

“It observed: ‘Being wholly owned by the State, the ZBC as a public broadcaster could be compromised by the pressures of operating with an inherent conflict of interest in the discharge of the dual responsibility of reporting information and bringing critical judgment to bear on public affairs’.

“The governance of ZBC should be vested in a board of governors accountable to the public through Parliament.

“The appointment process must be transparent and open and ensure participation by the public in the nomination of candidates.

“The members of the board, when viewed collectively, should be persons who represent a broad cross-section of the population of the country; are suited to serve on the board by virtue of their qualifications, expertise and experience in the fields of broadcasting policy and technology, broadcasting regulation, media law, business practice and finance, marketing, journalism, entertainment and education, social and labour issues.

“They should be committed to fairness, freedom of expression, the right of the public to be informed, and openness and accountability on the part of those holding public office and are committed to the objectives and principles of the public broadcaster.

“Persons who are office bearers with the State or political parties or have business interests in the media industry should not be eligible for board membership.”

Moyo said to ensure participation of the public in and transparency of the appointment process: the parliamentary committee responsible for broadcasting policy shall advertise the posts, call upon all relevant groups in society as well as individuals to nominate candidates, shortlist nominees and invite them for interviews in public hearings an appointment panel of public as well as civil society representatives shall assist in the process of selecting members of the board parliament should strive to reach consensus in order to appoint a board that is not partisan and avoid abuse of majority of one party.

“The governance of ZBC falls way too short when measured against most of these parameters as the current board appointment process is politically compromised and lacks full public participation.

“While the Con Court rightly noted that Section 40 of the broadcasting law establishes a public complaints mechanism members of the public can use to raise their grievances with the broadcaster, it is important that ZBC publicise and adhere to its code of conduct.

“This will restore the public’s confidence in the broadcaster as a credible, ethical and professional source of information.

“On the basis of its code, a public complaints unit, set up by the broadcaster, known and accessible to the public, should consider and resolve any complaints by members of the public against ZBC.

“Most importantly, ZBC should be seen to comply with the findings of the complaints unit in order to inspire public confidence in the use of the complaints mechanism to address the broadcaster’s shortcomings.

“Its transformation should not be short term, as to tick the boxes towards the elections, but should be long term in outlook, beyond the demands of the immediate, we should impress on the need for the plugging of fraudulent activities exposed by the KPGM report and restore its capacity to perform and provide the public.” DailyNews