MDC denied access to state media

Gift Phiri

ZIMBABWE’S state media this week effectively denied the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) access ahead of the legislative vote on March 31.



“Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif”>In correspondence to the opposition party obtained by the Zimbabwe Independent yesterday, the editors of both the Herald and Newsnet said they would not guarantee the MDC unfettered access to the media.


“We will not be offering any political party any special access to the Herald, which is a title in the stable of a public liability company with several hundred shareholders, quoted on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange and governed by a board of directors elected by shareholders at annual general meetings,”

Herald editor Pikirayi Deketeke wrote in a letter to MDC secretary-general Welshman Ncube.


“This is unlike the broadcasting services, which traditionally offer special free party political broadcasts during general elections.”


The MDC had written to the state-controlled daily seeking media coverage for its events.


The statement was made despite the fact that Zimbabwe is a recent signatory to the Sadc protocol on principles and guidelines on democratic elections which, among other provisions, stress the need for political tolerance and binds member-states to allow all political parties equitable access to the state media.


While it is true that the Herald has several shareholders, the government holds 51% shareholding in the listed company in trust for the Zimbabwean people, making it a public company.


Deketeke stated that the only access to the Herald would be through normal advertising.


“On advertising, our policy is that if any party or candidate wishes to buy space for an advertisement they may do so subject to our normal commercial conditions,” Deketeke said. “These do include the right to reject advertising material that we consider unsuitable because, for example, it is immoral, salacious, false or illegal.”


While Newsnet editor-in-chief Tazzen Mandizvidza agreed to allocate some free-to-air programmes to the MDC, the opposition party immediately protested that the time was inadequate and heavily tilted in favour of the ruling Zanu PF.


According to Mandizvidza’s correspondence, the opposition will be granted an interview with the state broadcaster on March 7 and 18 only.


It will be given just one discussion programme on March 14 and finally covered on March 25 when the party will make its second manifesto presentation. While the opposition has been given negligible access to the state media, the governing Zanu PF has unfettered access, sometimes dominating entire main news bulletins.


The MDC has been given 91 minutes for advertising and this airtime can only be taken up in advertising slots of not more than 60 seconds.

According to the advertising rates, it will cost $3,7 million to broadcast a television advert for 60 seconds during prime time and the state broadcaster is demanding cash upfront.


MDC spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi bemoaned the exorbitant tariffs, emphasising that the MDC would find it difficult to advertise.


This assertion was repeated by the party’s secretary for constitutional and legal affairs, David Coltart, who said: “Since the protocol was signed, there is nothing yet to show that the government of Robert Mugabe is committed to the Sadc Protocol … On the contrary, government is ensuring every day that the election will not be free and fair.”


Brian Kagoro, chief executive of Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, a group of pro-democracy NGOs, said there was nothing surprising about the statements.


“The Sadc protocol is just a collection of basic guidelines,” Kagoro said. “The guidelines are just that — guidelines — and because they are not part of the country’s enforceable laws, the Zanu PF government can choose to ignore them or implement a few for cosmetic purposes to avoid international isolation.”