By Nkosana Dlamini
THE death of MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai and the assault of his deputy, Thokozani Khupe February this year have both emerged as some of the most dominant items that dominated news coverage during the first quarter of 2018.
This is according to a baseline study on election reporting in Zimbabwe’s mainstream media conducted by local NGO, Media Monitors between 11 February and 24 February this year.
The study, launched Tuesday at a Harare event attended by media based groups and journalists, also revealed that 94 percent of all mainstream media coverage in Zimbabwe was shared between the ruling Zanu PF and the main opposition MDC-T.’
Media organisations sampled included national dailies such as The Herald, Chronicle, NewsDay and Daily News; weeklies The Independent, Standard, Sunday Mail while radio stations monitored were StarFM, ZiFM, SFM and Radio Zimbabwe with ZTV also monitored.
It has emerged however that Tsvangirai’s death which triggered internal skirmishes among MDC-T politicians tussling to succeed the former opposition leader, generated a media frenzy from both public and private media.
“During the monitoring period,” reads the report, “individual political actors were mentioned for 21,250 seconds. Of the total coverage of political actors, the top 10 actors combined accounted for 44% of the airtime.
“The late MDC-T leader, Morgan Tsvangirai was the most prominently covered political actor. He was mentioned 41% of the time in which the top 10 actors were mentioned.
“President Emmerson Mnangagwa was a distant second at 31%. The remaining actors in the top 10 were featured in the remaining 28% of the time.”
Tsvangirai succumbed to a long battle with colon cancer 14 February this year.
According to the report, women politicians from across the political divide have received only 10 percent of the total media coverage compared to 90 percent space granted to male politicians.
However, the physical attacks which were directed at Khupe by alleged followers of the now MDC-T leader Nelson Chamisa during and after Tsvangirai’s funeral saw loads of mainstream media coverage directed at her.
“There were some peculiar instances in which the First Lady (Auxillia Mnangagwa) was extensively covered in the privately owned media; the same can be said for Thokozani Khupe who was widely covered in the state-owned media.
“However, it should be noted that in such instances, the coverage was mostly negative. For example, when Khupe was covered in the publicly owned media, the tone of coverage was negative 30% of the time as opposed to their coverage of Auxillia Mnangagwa (7%),” says the report.
In terms of coverage directed at political parties, Zanu PF and MDC-T both occupied 94% while the remainder was distributed among 15 opposition parties.
There are nearly 130 political parties in the country although less than 5 are often considered serious in terms of their composition and activities.
“The study concluded that the media in Zimbabwe falls short of standards of fair and balanced coverage of political actors in the country. Zanu PF and MDC-T dominated the media’s coverage and combined for 94% of the space and time dedicated to political parties whilst the remaining 15 parties accounted for 6% of the coverage,” says the report.
“This is a reflection of the lack of diversity in the representation of political actors, given that over 100 political parties are contesting the upcoming elections.”
The survey further revealed that the State media is still biased towards Zanu PF while the private media grants favourable coverage to the MDC-T.