Sunday, June 16, 2024

Zimbabwe state media covers elections like Botswana’s

“It was the contention of several stakeholders that the State-owned media houses remain biased against the opposition political parties and candidates. While the Mission noted some improvement compared to the 2018 electoral processes, we also noted that the content of the public broadcaster and the State-owned newspapers were in favour of one political party, contrary to the relevant provisions of the Constitution, the Electoral Act, and the Revised SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections, which requires State-owned media to be impartial.”

The Mission in question is one made up of representatives of SADC member states which recently observed Zimbabwe’s general election – the SADC Electoral Observation Mission (SEOM). The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) also made the same observation, addressing the matter more extensively than the SADC Mission did.

“EU EOM media analysis showed that state ZBC devoted over two-thirds of news and current affairs coverage to ZANU-PF, President Mnangagwa, and the government,” says a statement from the EU, referring by the abbreviations to the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation and the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front.

Being better resourced than SEOM, EU EOM monitored ZBC-owned radio stations and determined that they gave “almost all” their election related airtime to ZANU-PF and practically none to the opposition Citizen’s Coalition for Change – which is led by Nelson Chamisa.

“Coverage of the president, government, and the ruling party by the state broadcaster was overwhelmingly positive, with no negative stories. The CCC did not take up free airtime on ZBC due to their history of negative reporting on the party and thus hadminimal coverage on ZBC, a third of which was negative in tone. Mr. Chamisa barely received any mentions on state TV and most of his features on the channel were also negative,” says the EU, adding that the government-controlled media group, Zimpapers, also provided more diverse coverage on their TV and radio channels.

Nobody really expected ZANU-PF to run a free and fair election but what is most interesting about the description of the media coverage is that the Zimbabwe state media covers elections no differently from Botswana’s own.

The most recent election was the Serowe West bye-election, which had been necessitated by the disqualification of Tshekedi Khama as the area’s Member of Parliament. The international standard is that the media, especially the state media, covers every public event that the presidency addresses. Taking advantage of this arrangement, both President Mokgweetsi Masisi and Vice President Slumber Tsogwane addressed Botswana Democratic Party political rallies ahead of the by-election. The rallies received extensive coverage from all state media channels. On the other hand, such coverage was not extended to opposition candidates.

From the point of view of journalism, the result of a by-election is big news and should get pride of place in the placement of stories. However, the Botswana state media doesn’t treat it as such when the opposition wins – and the opposition has won practically all by-elections that followed the 2019 general election.

The irony of the SADC statement is that Botswana was itself represented in SEOM –  thus the country was party to criticism of a practice that it has indulged in for decades. With the possible exception of South Africa and Mauritius, Zimbabwe’s state media functions no differently from state media in the rest of SADC. In Namibia, the founding president, Sam Nujoma, appointed himself minister of information and broadcasting with the explanation that he wanted to “tackle problems” at the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation.

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