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Head of state broadcaster fired for defying political orders

(MISA/IFEX) - Henry Muradzikwa, the chief executive officer of the state-controlled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) was fired on 14 May 2008 for reportedly defying ministerial orders to deny the opposition political party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), favourable coverage in the run-up to the 29 March 2008 elections.

Muradzikwa was fired for openly defying the Minister of Information and Publicity Dr Sikhanyiso Ndlovu and the ministry's Permanent Secretary George Charamba to deny positive radio and television publicity to the MDC. He was also reportedly accused of denying President Robert Mugabe favourable coverage.

The minister is said to have also instructed the former ZBC boss to bar the MDC from fighting its election campaign material with the state-controlled broadcaster until after the presidential election run-off between President Mugabe and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai. The runoff is expected at the end of June 2008.

MISA-Zimbabwe notes with concern that the reported instructions defied by Muradzikwa fly in the face of the SADC Guidelines Governing the conduct of democratic elections which stress equal access to the media by all political parties.

In terms of the guidelines on the conduct of democratic elections member states, Zimbabwe included, should adhere to the principles of freedom of association, political tolerance and affording all political parties equal and equitable access to the state broadcaster.

In comments published by the weekly "Zimbabwe Independent" on 16 May, Muradzikwa, however, said: "there was no specific reason (as to) why I was fired. It's only the part of the (dismissal) which says the shareholder had lost confidence in me that probably says something about the reasons of my dismissal.

"I religiously stuck to the statutes governing our operations as a broadcaster as given in the amended Broadcasting Services Act. Nobody had the right to instruct me on how to act as this was outside the law. We made sure we stuck to the laws and I believe I was right in that approach."

When he appeared before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Transport and Communications in 2007, Muradzikwa a veteran journalist who has previously been editor of the weekly state controlled "The Sunday Mail" and Zimbabwe Inter-Africa News Agency, told the committee that political interference and censorship of news reports is the order of the day at the state-controlled broadcaster. He further mentioned that ZBC was reporting on the "basis of deception" and that the Ministry of Information and Publicity should be clear on what it expected of the state broadcaster.

MISA-Zimbabwe reiterates that the transformation of the ZBC into a truly independent public broadcaster as envisaged under the African Charter on Broadcasting will only be secured through the establishment of an independent broadcasting and telecommunication regulatory body to curb outside political interference.

The current setup, where the regulatory body and ZBC board is answerable to the executive, stands in the way of the desired transformation of the ZBC into a public broadcaster and enabler of free expression.

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