THE Morgan Tsvangirai-led MDC has accused the countryâ€™s national broadcaster, the ZBC, of biased coverage of the March 29 election campaign.
In a letter dated February 28 to ZBC chief executive officer Henry Muradzikwa, MDC information director Luke Tamborinyoka told the broadcaster that as a publicly-funded corporation it must be impartial in its coverage of the election process.
He accused the ZBC of not adhering to Sadc guidelines on the conduct of free and fair polls.
“As MDC, we are dissatisfied with the blackout of our activities, especially the launch of our campaign at Sakubva Stadium in Mutare on Saturday 23 February 2008,” wrote Tamborinyoka. “Despite being invited, your corporation snubbed the event and instead spent hours covering President Robert Mugabeâ€™s birthday in Beitbridge.”
The MDC complained that the ZBC recently granted Mugabe an exclusive interview to mark his 84th birthday and used the opportunity to malign the reputation of his opponents in the March polls.
“Mugabe also used an exclusive birthday interview that you granted him to attack other candidates in the presidential elections who are never given a chance to respond through the same medium,” Tamborinyoka said. “It is our view that the ZBC has abused its privilege to give unfair advantage to Zanu PF and its candidate even though as a publicly-funded broadcaster you are expected to give equal coverage to all political players.”
Mugabe attacked Tsvangirai for allegedly being backed by the West to reverse the gains of the liberation struggle and described the leader of the other faction of the MDC, Arthur Mutambara, as a coward for chickening out of the presidential race.
Apart from granting Mugabe several hours of broadcast time on his birthday celebrations in February, last Friday ZBC devoted more than four hours of live radio and television coverage to Zanu PFâ€™s election campaign launch where the octogenarian leader taunted his opponents. The MDC told Muradzikwa that Sadc guidelines on the conduct of free and fair elections demand that all political parties should receive equal coverage in the public media.
“At that historic (Sadc) meeting in Mauritius in August 2004, President Mugabe committed himself to these guidelines,” Tamborinyoka said. “You have a part to play in making sure that Zimbabweans truly express their legitimate will in this watershed election.”
The opposition said its candidates were not being accorded an opportunity to “tell their stories” through the ZBC, while the ruling Zanu PF election campaign continued to receive “prime-time” coverage.
“The media plays an important role in either building or destroying a nation through the promotion of hate speech against other political players who are never given the chance to respond,” Tamborinyoka said. “It is our hope that in future the ZBC will change this unfortunate behaviour which deprives voters of critical information that enables them to make informed choices.”
At the time of going to press yesterday, Muradzikwa was yet to reply to the MDC letter.
The Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ) last week described programming by the ZBC as propagandist and against the Sadc principles.
“This week the public media continued to violate domestic and regional guidelines on fair and equitable election reporting by giving massive publicity to Zanu PF than all its opponents combined,” said the MMPZ in its weekly report. “The extent to which programming has virtually collapsed at the ZBC was aptly demonstrated by the saturation of the airwaves with Zanu PF propaganda during President Mugabe 84th birthday celebrations.”–Bernard Mpofu