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Censorship and political interference rife at state broadcaster

(MISA/IFEX) - The chief executive officer of Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings (ZBH), Henry Muradzikwa, has admitted that political interference and censorship of news reports is the order of the day at the state-controlled national broadcaster.

Appearing before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Transport and Communications, Muradzikwa said interference with ZBH's editorial policy and government's expectations of the state broadcaster undermined media freedom.

"We have been reporting on the basis of deception. What does the shareholder (government) want? The shareholder must make it," he said.

Muradzikwa said the Ministry of Information should be clear on how it wants the broadcaster to report. He said provincial governors were abusing ZBH bureau chiefs by treating them as part of their staff.

He also revealed that ZBH's Iran-backed digitalisation programme had been stalled because of an unsettled debt of US$3 million. "The difficult is that this is not a ZBH debt alone. It was incurred by both ZBH and ARDA (Agricultural Rural Development Authority). ZBH has paid its half."

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zimbabwe insists that the long term credibility of the state broadcaster hinges on its transformation into a truly independent public broadcaster backed by comprehensive media law reforms that will expunge restrictive legislations such as the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) in compliance with the South African Development Community (SADC) Principles and Guidelines on the Conduct of Democratic Elections.

The SADC Guidelines espouse the full participation of citizens in the electoral process, press freedom and equal access by all political parties to state media, freedom of association, political tolerance and independence of the judiciary among its other 10 fundamental tenets for the holding of free and fair elections.

The transformation of the ZBC into a truly independent public broadcaster among other contributory factors will go a long way in securing a free and fair environment ahead of the 2008 elections. The prevailing regulatory environment as dictated by the BSA and the ZBC's governance, ownership and management structure chokes its editorial independence, allowing the Ministry of Information and Publicity free reign over the appointment of its board of directors, chief executive officer and editorial decisions.

MISA-Zimbabwe submits that for the ZBC to be respected as a truly independent broadcaster there is a need for new legislation that surrenders the appointment of its board of governors through a transparent public nomination and selection process. This means that there should be legal provisions enshrined in the broadcaster's charter or constitution guaranteeing its editorial independence, as well as ensuring that it is accountable to the public. The overall goal of the new legislation should not only be to fulfil the right to freedom of expression of the media, but more importantly, to ensure that all Zimbabweans have the right to participate freely, fully and creatively in the management and operations of their public media.

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