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MISA demands ZBC coverage of all political parties in upcoming elections

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA Zimbabwe) has written a letter to the country’s only allowed television station, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) demanding fair and balanced coverage of all political parties in the upcoming elections.

The petition comes ahead of the 2023 elections and the by-elections which are set to be held on the 26th March this year.

ZBC and Zimpapers tarnished President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s controversial electoral victory in 2018 after the media organisation pushed the Zanu PF agenda and supported incumbent President. The opposition parties were hardly given a chance to address the electorate at the public broadcaster.

This was condemned by observers including the United Nations, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the European Union (EU) among others.

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 had 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)

MISA national director Tabani Moyo, in a letter dated January 21 urged ZBC to comply with the Constitution in terms of its coverage of different political parties and interests.

“It is in that regard that the High Court of Zimbabwe and several election observer missions came up with several recommendations on how the public media, ZBC and Zimpapers, should cover the country’s elections following the conclusion of Zimbabwe’s 2018 harmonised elections,” read the letter.

“The public broadcaster is thus duty-bound to duly comply with the relevant court order to that effect while also taking into account recommendations made by the various election observer missions.”

MISA cited a 2019 High Court ruling by Justice Joseph Mafusire which noted that ZBC and Zimpapers had breached Section 61 of the Constitution which provides for freedom of expression and media freedom through its coverage of the 2018 elections.

He ordered ZBC and Zimpapers “to ensure their communications do not show bias in favour of one political party or its candidates and that they exercise impartiality and independence in their duties”.

MISA said several reports by election observer missions to the 2018 elections made similar findings, notably SADC, African Union, SADC and EU, among others.

ZBC vehicles

MISA also reminded ZBC that SADC noted that the public broadcaster and the State-owned newspapers were in favour of one political party, contrary to the relevant provisions of the Constitution, the Electoral Act, and the Revised SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections, which requires State-owned media to be impartial.

“In 2016, Chief Justice Luke Malaba who was then Deputy Chief Justice extensively quoted the Electoral Act in the Majome vs Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation case during which he said:

‘Section 160G of the Electoral Act requires a public broadcaster to afford all political parties contesting elections such free access to its broadcasting services as may be prescribed.

‘… the public broadcaster is required to act in an independent and unbiased manner in the selection and presentation of television and radio programmes.

‘There is a provision prohibiting ZBC as a public broadcaster from acting in a manner that favours the viewpoints of one political party whilst shutting out, as a matter of policy, viewpoints of other political parties on matters of national interest’.

“MISA Zimbabwe, by virtue of this letter, and in the context of the right to access information as provided for by the Freedom of Information Act, is therefore kindly seeking the following information as the country prepares for the March 2022 by-elections, and most importantly, ahead of the 2023 national elections:

“What progress has been made in complying with Justice Mafusire’s court order and the recommendations by election observer missions?

“Have you developed an implementation plan to comply with the afore-mentioned court order? If not, what are the challenges being faced?” Nehanda Radio

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