By Staff Reporter
MEDIA practitioners have been called on to increase coverage of election-related news, while journalists are demanding political parties to guarantee their security covering polls.
The debate comes at a time the safety of journalists in the country is under spotlight following the recent attacks on four independent journalists by Zanu PF apparatchiks in the run-up to the just ended Gokwe-Kabuyuni by elections.
Mbizo MP Settlement Chikwinya sparked the debate after he raised concern over the lack of a media interest in the just ended poll.
“I was camped in Kabuyuni during the campaign period and on voting day. Besides members of TechMag and ZBC from the media side, I did not see any other media outlets covering the Kabuyuni by-elections,” said Chikwinya.
“Obviously the reasons are respected and it remains your discretion to cover which event you may want.”
The outspoken lawmaker, however lamented how the media was lowly valuing by elections.
“My question is, have by elections lost national interest to the extent that media can literally ignore them as a non event? Has the media resigned it’s interest in political reportage of rural areas and now only cover urban areas?
“Is the cost of covering a political event in a long distance area like Kabuyuni not worth the business in this economic environment? More worrying is that I did not see even one observer, both local or international. I had hoped that the story of the people of Kabuyuni would be told by locals so that their voice is placed on the table of demands for a free and fair election,” Chikwinya said.
Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ) programmes manager, Nigel Nyamutumbu said while by-elections had not been given much prominence in the past the current political dynamics need a rethink.
“By-elections are traditionally not given much prominence in Zimbabwean politics to an extent that they don’t necessarily meet the news values and worthiness test as it were,” Nyamutumbu said.
“The March 26 by elections were an exception in that they were national in outlook, with elections in every province and that there was a ‘new’ political formation that had changed the frame of these elections.
“It, therefore, followed that few organisations invested on following, covering and observing these by-elections as in any event the anticipation would have been the absence of competing stories that would fundamentally influence the public sphere,” said Nyamutumbu.
He however, highlighted that the violence requires journalists to be alert.
“The reported acts of violence, including but not limited to journalists provide an opportunity to revisit and repackage this specific by-election. There is even scope to institute an investigation, and to deploy resources, to unpack and bring to the fore the reasons behind the violence that occurred during the election.
“Violence is not an event. It’s often premeditated and the fundamental causes could still be existing in that area.
“As the country gears up for elections, there is need for the media to critically reflect on the environment and give indicators on early warning signs and in mitigating the same. The 2023 elections are in full swing and the media’s role ought to be pronounced in this season,” the MAZ manager said.
Zimbabwe National Editors’ Forum (Zinef) national coordinator, Njabulo Ncube said the media was found wanting in exposing political violence in the recent by-elections.
“The issue of political violence was under reported. I am aware several media houses were on the ground, but reporting on the violence was minimal. Political violence should be a big story for any media organisation,” said Ncube.