Getting it right
By Iden Wetherell
THE media are an essential part of the election process. We are the main channel for getting information to voters on their right to vote, reporting what the various p
arties stand for and what the main issues in the campaign are.
Below we publish a summary of key standards produced by the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, drawn from material used by the International Federation of Journalists and media watchdog Article 19, to which the Zimbabwe Independent and our sister paper the Standard are happy to subscribe. We have made changes where we think necessary to update the material but essentially it remains a timeless statement of elementary principles.
If you think we have departed from these principles in any way please do not hesitate to contact me on 773930/8 or at email@example.com.
The first duty of a journalist is to:
*report accurately and without bias;
*report only in accordance with facts whose origin are known and not suppress essential information;
*observe professional secrecy regarding the source of information obtained in confidence;
*report in a balanced manner. (If a candidate makes an allegation against another candidate, the journalist should seek comment from both sides wherever possible);
*do his/her utmost to correct any inaccurate published information that is found to be prejudicial to a candidate;
*report as far as possible the views of candidates and political parties directly and in their own words, rather than as they are described by others;
*avoid using language or expressing sentiments that may promote discrimination or violence on any grounds, including race, gender, sexual orientation, language, or religion;
*do his/her utmost when reporting the opinions of those who do advocate discrimination or violence to put such views in a clear context and to report the opinions of those against whom such sentiments are directed;
*not accept any inducement from a politician or candidate;
*not make any promise to a politician about the content of a news report;
*take care in reporting the findings of opinion polls.
Any opinion poll report should wherever possible include the following information:
*who commissioned and carried out the poll and when;
*how many people were interviewed, where and how they were interviewed and the margin of error;
*the exact wording of the questions;
A journalist shall regard the following as grave professional offences:
*acceptance of a bribe or favours in any form in consideration of either publication or suppression of views.
There should be a clear separation between fact and comment. News reporting should reflect the facts as honestly perceived by journalists. Comment may reflect the editorial line of our publications but should be clearly flagged as such.
Our journalists reporting an election campaign have a number of duties which include:
*Reporting what the candidates say, and;
*Digging beneath the surface to uncover hidden campaign issues.
Our reporters will report what they see and hear without exaggeration.
Over the years, we have witnessed the increased use of hate speech and inflammatory language during the campaign period. The campaigns have also been marred by violence and damage to property. Politicians have inflamed this through violent language. It is not our job to censor what they say but to report accurately what they say. But when reporting inflammatory language, we will balance it by reporting the view of those who are being attacked.
It is not the job of a reporter to criticise what a politician says. That can be done on the editorial pages. But it is also imperative that we point out where they are not being consistent or where they are applying double standards. Is a candidate saying the same thing this week as he was last week? Is he saying the same as other candidates from the same party on the same issue?
We will be guided by these basic journalistic tenets in our coverage of the polls and sincerely hope that parties will understand that the role of the media is to report events even if the reportage turns out to be unpalatable to them.
Above all we hope that by applying the standards above we can help produce an electorate capable of making informed choices.