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Media coverage not conducive for free and fair elections

The state-controlled media has now abandoned all pretence at providing their readers, viewers and listeners with balanced or fair coverage of election issues, the Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe (MMPZ) says. As a result, it says, Zimbabweans do not have access to alternative political perspectives in the publicly funded media.

Parliamentary elections to be held next month can therefore never be considered to be free and fair. MMPZ says the coverage of the election campaign mirrors the grossly unbalanced coverage in support of the draft constitution in the run up to the February referendum where viewpoints in favour of the No vote were virtually ignored by the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) and Zimbabwe Newspapers (Zimpapers).

Zimpapers, it says, has by its own admission, thrown its weight behind the ruling party, and coverage by ZBC of the present political climate in Zimbabwe constitutes nothing more than propaganda for ZANU-PF.

MMPZ says an analysis of the coverage by the electronic media over the past six weeks clearly shows that the ZBC has consistently denied fair coverage of opposition parties and has clearly embarked upon a systematic campaign to promote the ruling party at the expense of the political opposition, particularly its main rival, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which it persistently attacks.

It says between April 17 and May 14, Television One carried 167 campaign stories, 152 of them from the ruling ZANU-PF. Only 8 were on the MDC and the remaining 7 covered other opposition parties including ZAPU, United Parties, Democratic Party and the Multi-Racial Open Party.

Fifty-seven percent (86) of the stories from ZANU-PF were anti-MDC. The MMPZ says within the 167 stories, there were 227 voices from political parties quoted.

A staggering 93 percent, constituting 211 voices were from the ruling ZANU- PF. The MDC only had 9 voices and the other parties, 7.

It says 47 stories were on violence and there were 64 voices. Even there, there were more ZANU-PF voices than the police, with ZANU-PF having 27, the police 21, alternative voices 10, the newsreader and no source 5 and the MDC 1.

There were 182 campaign stories on Radios 1 and 3 and 132 on Radios 2 and 4. ZANU-PF once again dominated with 140 stories on Radios 1 and 3 and 106 on Radios 2 and 4.

The MDC only had 15 and 10 respectively lower than those coming from the reporter or newsreader who accounted for 18 and 11, respectively. Of the 204 voices on Radios 1 and 3 and 152 on Radios 2 and 4, ZANU-PF had 185 and 140, respectively while the MDC had 10 and 7.

More stories on violence on the radio stations, however, came from the police. Out of the 48 on Radios 1 and 3, 17 were from the police against 11 from ZANU-PF and 4 from the MDC.

The same applied to Radios 2 and 4 where police were quoted in 15 of the 45 stories with ZANU-PF accounting for 7 and the MDC for 3 and 9 coming from the people.

The MMPZ says the state-controlled media consistently distorted statements by the leader of the MDC and ignored the campaign of intimidation currently being conducted against Zimbabwe’s rural population and all those expressing any political sentiment different from the ruling party.

“Any political violence that is reported is attributed to the MDC without any effort to independently substantiate such claims. Nor is any effort made to provide details of people killed and injured, mainly as a result of their political affiliation. Only the ruling party receives uncritical publicity, while the activities, public statements and election manifestos of all opposition political parties are ignored except to criticise them,” the media watchdog says.

“Voices critical of the ruling party have been completely silenced by the publicly funded media. Only in the privately owned press is there any critical analysis of the ruling party and the prevailing political climate in the country. But since the readership of these newspapers is predominantly urban, the majority of Zimbabweans do not have access to such information.

“As a result, Zimbabweans are being deprived of their right to free and unfettered access to information that would enable them to make informed choices in this year’s parliamentary election. In short, they are being misinformed. Unless this trend is reversed immediately, the election process is virtually certain to have been fatally compromised,” it says.

The MMPZ says among the dailies 83 percent of the voices quoted by The Herald were ZANU-PF. The MDC only had 10 percent.

In The Chronicle, ZANU-PF had 64 percent and the MDC 14 percent. The Daily News was more balanced but even then the ZANU-PF voice was dominant with 44 percent against the MDC’s 39 percent.

ZANU-PF also dominated in the Sunday Mail with 77 percent, Sunday News with 88 percent and Manica Post 83 percent. The MDC had 13, 12 and 17 percent, respectively.

It, however, dominated in the Zimbabwe Independent and Standard where it enjoyed 52 and 56 percent, respectively with ZANU-PF getting 35 and 31 percent. In the Financial Gazette it was 48 percent for ZANU-PF and 30 percent for MDC.

The Zimbabwe Mirror gave more voices to other parties which accounted for 32 percent against 46 percent for ZANU-PF and 21 percent for MDC. The Eastern Star also gave the MDC an upper hand with 43 percent against ZANU-PF’s 33 percent and 24 percent for other parties.

The Bulawayo-based Dispatch was almost even with MDC getting 33 percent, ZANU-PF 27 percent, ZAPU 23 percent and other parties 17 percent.

(27 VIEWS)

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