MISA requests ZBC election coverage plan

Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA) Zimbabwe has approached the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) seeking its implementation plan for fair and balanced coverage of political parties during the upcoming by-elections.

In the letter to the ZBC Chief Executive officer, Adelaide Chikunguru, MISA Zimbabwe noted that following conclusions from the coverage of the 2018 harmonised elections, the High Court of Zimbabwe and various election observer missions came up with several recommendations on how the public media, (ZBC and Zimpapers) should cover the country’s elections.

Zimbabwe will hold by-elections on March 26 while the harmonised elections will be held in 2023.

“As the by-elections proclaimed by President Emmerson Mnangagwa for 26 March 2022 beckon, immense responsibility is thus thrust on the media to comply with the Constitution in terms of its coverage of different political parties and interests. The Zimbabwe Electoral Act also states how the media should conduct itself during elections,” MISA said in the letter.

“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. 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 highlighted that High Court judge Justice Joseph Mafusire ruled 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.

“Justice Mafusire ordered ZBC and Zimpapers “to ensure their communications do not show bias in favor of one political party or its candidates and that they exercise impartiality and independence in their duties,” said MISA.

“Several reports by election observer missions to the 2018 elections made similar findings, notably the African Union Election Observer Mission, SADC Electoral Observer Mission and EU Election Observer Mission, among others.”

MISA further noted that the SADC report concluded that the public broadcaster and the State-owned newspapers were in favor 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.

“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,” MISA noted.

“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?”

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