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MISA concerned about media coverage of presidential elections

(MISA/IFEX) - The following is a MISA press release:

Zimbabwe: Statement on media coverage of the Presidential Election Runoff

MISA-Zimbabwe notes with great concern the skewed coverage of the campaign period preceding the high stakes presidential election run-off slated for 27 June 2008 more so by the state media and in particular the national broadcaster, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC).

The Electoral Act emphasises the need for ZBC, as the state broadcaster in the country, to ensure that political parties or candidates are invited to present their election manifestoes and policies without being interviewed. In terms of advertising, the Act states that advertising time between political parties and candidates should be distributed equally.

It is sad to note that these electoral benchmarks have been eschewed by the state media with ZBC's election coverage openly skewed in favour of ZANU PF to the exclusion of the MDC-T in the presidential contest which will be contested by President Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai representing the two respective parties. This therefore throws into serious doubt the freeness, fairness and evenness of the political playing field.

The state broadcaster has without any doubt blatantly and dismally failed to fulfil its obligations of granting equal and equitable access to radio and television to all the contesting parties in the crucial period preceding the runoff and as obliged under the SADC Principles and Guidelines on the Conduct of Democratic elections and the Zimbabwe Electoral Act.

MISA-Zimbabwe, however notes the commendable efforts by the independent newspapers to get both sides of the story as well as projecting the messages and positions of the contesting parties as contained in their campaign advertisements unlike is the case with the total blackout of the MDC-T's advertisements in the state media. The only semblance of coverage accorded the MDC-T by the state media has been in the form of vilification through news reports, documentaries and opinion pieces by columnists.

MISA-Zimbabwe therefore reiterates that the transformation of the ZBC into a truly independent public broadcaster as envisioned under the African Charter on Broadcasting will go a long way in entrenching its editorial independence and alignment to adhere to the SADC Principles and Guidelines on the Conduct of Democratic Elections.

The media should at all times uphold its professional obligations to foster greater credibility, accountability and responsibility to the citizenry who depend on it for partial, fair, truthful and objective information that assists them to make informed decisions and choices. This is of paramount importance particularly during election time when the media, as expected at all times, should excel in its adherence to the binding ethics and principles governing the exercise of free and fair elections.

This responsibility is overemphasised and stressed through the SADC Guidelines and Principles on the Conduct of Democratic Elections in the Southern African region. In addition, Zimbabwe's Electoral Act takes cognisance of the democratic obligations of both the print and broadcast media in the coverage of elections. These obligations which dovetail with the SADC Guidelines stress the need for:

a. Equitable treatment of all political parties and candidates in the extent, timing and prominence of the coverage accorded to them.
b. A clear distinction between factual reporting and editorial commenting on the election.
c. The affording of a right to reply to any claims by the political parties or candidates concerned to be false and that the media does not promote political parties or candidates that encourage violence or hatred against any class of persons in Zimbabwe.

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