Free and fair polls not possible – Misa

Ndamu Sandu

REGIONAL media watchdog, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa), says free and fair elections are unlikely in Zimbabwe next year under the current media regime.



, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif”>In a report of a fact-finding mission to Zimbabwe released last week in Johannesburg, Misa said media freedom and other liberties were a prerequisite for free elections.


The fact-finding mission was in the country in June to look into the state of the media in the run-up to next year’s general election.


Members of the mission included Pamela Dube, editor of Botswana’s Mokgosi newspaper; Fernando Gonçalves, editor of Savana newspaper in Mozambique, and Patrick Matibini, a Zambian media law expert.


In their 22-page report, Gonçalves said it was not possible to have free and fair elections if some political parties were denied access to the public media.


He said during the survey, Zimbabweans said the “state media hardly makes mention of any activities carried out by the opposition, and when it does it is invariably in derogatory terms, projecting opposition leaders and their supporters as unpatriotic, sell-outs and subversive elements seeking to overthrow the government and instigators of violence”.


He said he was also told the state media was used to propagate hate messages against minorities and incite hatred against a selected group of individuals.


“Violence and intimidation is extensive to journalists and lawyers,” he said.

“Independent journalists are not allowed to cover certain events, while lawyers find it increasingly difficult to access their clients who would have been arrested on politically trumped up charges. We were informed that lawyers no longer had easy access to the courts for the submission of papers on behalf of their clients, and often face harassment at such institutions,” Gonçalves said.


Dube said the introduction of laws such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa), and the Public Order and Security Act (Posa) had effectively closed media space in Zimbabwe. She said this was in violation of Article 21 of the Zimbabwe Constitution which guarantees freedom of expression.


“Professional journalism has been criminalised,” she said. Dube said the Misa mission heard disheartening stories of harassment of journalists and those thrown out of employment after the Minister of Information had rejected their applications for compulsory accreditation.


“This Act (Aippa) has also ensured that professionalism is sacrificed, especially in the public media, where journalists are forced – first by dictates of the ministry and second by the need to survive – to toe the political line,” Dube said.


Misa also referred to a report by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Transport and Communications that said Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings was not providing balanced coverage of political events in the country.

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