/ 15 February 2008

Concern over media bias in Zimbabwe

With only weeks to go before the Zimbabwean elections, there has been no let-up in the slanted coverage of the campaign by the country’s public broadcaster, according to the independent Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ).

The Harare-based project said it noted with concern that the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation showed no sign of observing either Zimbabwean law or Southern African Development Community guidelines requiring it to provide fair and balanced coverage.

Nor had it tried to publicise important voter information on the complicated electoral process.

MMPZ said that last week ZTV devoted 37 minutes in its news bulletins to ”approving coverage” of the ruling Zanu-PF, compared with a combined total of just four minutes for the Movement for Democratic Change and the newly formed Zimbabwe Development Party (ZDP).

Although new presidential hopeful, former finance minister Simba Makoni, received 18 minutes on ZTV’s news bulletins, this was overwhelmingly dominated by reports chastising him for breaking ranks with the ruling party and challenging President Robert Mugabe.

The government media deliberately trivialised the significance of Makoni’s decision to challenge Mugabe for the presidency.

On the day it was announced, ZTV ”buried it” in a minor item announcing the formation of the ZDP by little-known Kisnot Mukwezha.

The MMPZ said that under amendments to the electoral laws, the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) was obliged to draw up a code of conduct for the media for this election period and to ensure they adhere to this code.

However, it had not yet done so.

While it had been reported that the ZEC had been conducting ”house-to-house” voter education, there was no indication of how extensive this exercise was.

Neither, apparently, had it enlisted any of the media in its efforts to explain changes to constituency and ward boundaries, and how these would affect voters.

”Nor has it attempted to disseminate other important electoral information, such as the number and location of polling stations [and] that voters will need to cast their ballots effectively in Zimbabwe’s most complex electoral exercise,” the MMPZ said.

Private civic organisations had been the only voices disseminating voter education.

All of the 53 voter-education advertisements monitored on ZTV last week were placed by private bodies. — Sapa