THE Media Institute of Southern Africa Zimbabwe (MISA Zimbabwe) has reported President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) asking the regional body to push Harare to reform the state media before this year’s elections.
In a petition handed to SADC’s executive secretary, Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax, at his Botswana offices last Monday, MISA said there won’t be free and fair elections if the new government did not reform the public media which has, since independence, been biased towards Zanu PF.
“Before and after the 2013 general elections, concerns were raised about the public broadcaster’s highly partisan coverage of the ruling party to the exclusion of opposition political parties and other dissenting voices and views,” said the petition.
MISA said most of the reforms Harare continued to ignore were also raised by the African Union Election Observation Mission (AUEOM) after the 2013 harmonized elections.
“Five years later, the Zimbabwean government is still to implement the envisaged media reforms. This indeed is cause for great concern, especially in light of the fact that Zimbabwe is expected to hold general elections sometime this year,” said MISA.
“MISA-Zimbabwe respectfully submits that Zimbabwe’s government has the obligation and responsibility to implement the reforms in question without any further delays. This obligation arises from the country’s Constitution as well as regional instruments such as the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections and the African Charter on Democracy Elections and Governance,” said the regional media watchdog.
Opposition political parties have since formed an alliance called the National Electoral Reform Agenda through which they are lobbying government to institute a cocktail of electoral reforms which among them include equal access to the public media.
MISA also said journalists should not be subjected to double accreditation as mandated by statutory bodies like the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission during elections.
“The requirement that a journalist who is already accredited with the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC), needs further accreditation by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), for election-related coverage, is unnecessarily cumbersome, bureaucratic and an unnecessary drain on the fiscus.
“The media cannot cover elections properly when it cannot access relevant events and places by virtue of not being accredited by ZEC. The purpose of laws or regulations on media and elections – and the function of a regulatory body – is to create an environment in which the media conducts their business freely.
“Elections are not state secrets to be investigated by dedicated investigative journalists. Instead they should be conducted openly and freely. The fundamental guiding principle here being that, journalists as duly and constitutionally accredited by the ZMC, should be given unfettered access to all election- related events,” said MISA.