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MISA urges national broadcaster to ensure equal access for all political parties

(MISA/IFEX) - 4th November 2009 - MISA is calling on the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) to speed up the process of revising and implementing an alternative and equitable airtime allocation for political parties participating in the 27-28 November 2009 Presidential and National Assembly elections.

As a public broadcaster, NBC has a responsibility to serve the public through its mandate to inform and educate by giving citizens access to all political parties and the information they would need to exercise their democratic right to vote for a government of their choice.

By removing the free airtime allocation, NBC is not only compromising its mandate, but denying citizens their right to receive critical information that would enable them to meaningfully participate in the democratic process. The biggest losers in this scenario are not the political parties, but the citizens whose right to make informed decisions has been needlessly curtailed. Not only should NBC come up with a fair and equitable quota system for allocating political parties airtime, it should do so now and without further delay. The allocation of time should be guided by international and regional principles on the role of the media in creating an environment conducive to free and fair elections.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) 2002 Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections, as agreed by all SADC Heads of State including Namibia, as well as other regional documents, including the SADC Parliamentary Forum's Norms and Standards for Elections in Southern Africa, the Electoral Commissions Forum (ECF) and the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa's (EISA) Principles for Election Management, Monitoring and Observation in Southern Africa, call for fair and equal access to media for all political parties and candidates contesting in an election.

NBC is also a signatory to the 2005 Southern Africa Broadcasting Association Guidelines and Principles for SADC broadcasters on covering elections, which states that "Broadcasters have the responsibility to treat all political parties equitably to ensure fair play." Furthermore, the guidelines stipulate that broadcasters shall "develop transparent formulae for calculating the allocation of airtime, including the amount of time and the time of broadcast to be provided to all individual political parties."

The call for equal coverage and airtime is under the presumption that all political parties should be treated as equal before elections and only the voters have the right to decide.

The NBC as a public service broadcaster, using public funds derived from taxpayers, has a duty to be impartial in informing and educating the electorate; in fact the NBC should help create an electoral environment through coverage designed to emphasise the importance of elections and encourage participation by all citizens in the election process.

MISA therefore urges the NBC to expediently announce and implement a fair and equitable time allocation for all political parties so that citizens may exercise their right to make an informed decision in the upcoming Presidential and National Assembly elections.

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