THE state-controlled media have been criticised for defying the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Act by failing to give equal, unbiased and fair coverage to the opposition MDC ahead of the June 27 presidential election run-off.
Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC will contest against President Robert Mugabe in the run-off.
Statistics compiled by the Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe (MMPZ) revealed that since the March 29 elections, the MDC was either denied access or covered through “conspiracies” in both print and electronic media.
The Herald, according to the media watch group, covered 58 election-related stories up to last Sunday. Out of these stories, 37 allegedly campaigned for Zanu PF and Mugabe against 21 stories that portrayed the opposition party negatively.
The MMPZ said Radio Zimbabwe, which is the most popular radio station in Zimbabwe, only broadcast denigrating material about the opposition during the same period.
“MMPZ is deeply concerned that following the Zimbabwe Electoral Commissionâ€™s declaration announcing June 27 as the date for the presidential election run-off, the authorities have swiftly responded with extra-judicial measures to ensure that the countryâ€™s national broadcaster, ZBC, campaigns solely for President Mugabe ahead of his election contest with MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai,” the media watchdog said.
The MMPZ said government interference in the running of publicly-owned media was a “gross contempt” of the countryâ€™s electoral laws and could undermine public opinion of the polls. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Act allows equal access to public broadcasters by candidates.
â€˜â€˜Public broadcasters shall afford all political parties and independent candidates contesting an election such free access to their broadcasting services as may be prescribed in regulations made by the Commission, with the approval of the Minister, in terms of Section 19,” the law says.
The MMPZ also blamed the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) for remaining mum on the electoral matter.
“Equally deplorable is ZECâ€™s silence on the matter. According to broadcasting regulations and recent amendments to the Electoral Act, ZEC is mandated to monitor the mediaâ€™s coverage of the election campaign to ensure fair and equitable exposure of contesting parties.”
Nelson Chamisa, the MDC spokesperson, yesterday criticised state-owned media for what he termed a “total shutdown” of his party and president.
“State media is 99,99% biased in favour of Zanu PF,” Chamisa said. “The little coverage that we have heard is not balanced and is demonising the party through hate-filled programming, articles and songs on radio. Our recent interview on ZBC clearly showed how (Happison) Muchechetere is determined to see a total shutdown of the party.”
Chamisa claimed that the ZEC had only responded to the MDC concerns through a “verbal undertaking”.
ZEC deputy chief elections officer Utoile Silaigwana yesterday could not be drawn to comment on the matter at the time of going to print. “I am in a meeting, would you call after the meeting or you can fax your questions,” Silaigwana said.
By Bernard Mpofu