Baseline study on election reporting in Zimbabwe’s mainstream media – 1st quarter 2018

Executive Summary

Media Monitors conducted a study from 11 – 24 February 2018 on media reporting of Zimbabwe’s political processes ahead of the election on 30 July this year. The study monitored the media’s coverage of political parties, candidates, government officials and public affairs as well as the media’s professionalism in doing so. The study chose a sample that was representative of the various media in the country, which include the state broadcaster; private commercial radio stations; state owned and private print media.

For this report, Media Monitors did not include a sample of the local commercial radio stations.

News coverage in the monitoring period was dominated by the death of longtime opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, the end of the Biometric Voter Registration exercise where 5,2 million Zimbabweans registered to vote, and the appointment of Priscilla Chigumba as the new Chairperson of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission. These events shaped the media’s election narrative.

The study concluded that the media in Zimbabwe falls short of standards of fair and balanced coverage of political actors in the country. ZANU PF and MDC T dominated the media’s coverage and combined for 94% of the space and time dedicated to political parties whilst the remaining 15 parties accounted for 6% of the coverage. This is a reflection of the lack of diversity in the representation of political actors, given that over 100 political parties are contesting the upcoming elections.

The gender dynamics were also problematic as the research noted that women political actors continue to be underrepresented in the media, they made up 16% of the space and time dedicated to political actors in the media while men accounted for 84% of the coverage.

The study assessed both the state and privately owned media and noticed that, despite all state-owned media outlets are constitutionally obliged to be fair and impartial in their reporting, the tone of MDC-T coverage was either neutral or negative in the state-owned news outlets, while ZANU PF received a more favorable attention on these platforms.

Elections were not one the major issues for coverage, filling 6% of all news hole. Out of all the news stories aired and published devoted to elections 62% focused on campaign activities or statements by political players during campaigns of the different political parties, while there was much less reporting of election related administrative issues and other preparations ahead of the upcoming elections. An analysis of the news agenda showed that the state and privately owned media have implicitly endorsed different parties and candidates to win the election. State-owned print and broadcast media seem to have endorsed President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his ZANU PF as the presidential candidate and party to win the upcoming elections. Private media on the other hand, seem to have endorsed Nelson Chamisa as their preferred presidential candidate, particularly over Thokozani Khupe, and the MDC-T as their party of choice.

While the majority of news reports on elections were professionally done, there were some challenges noted, particularly the lack of objectivity in some reports. There was also an over-reliance on “sound bites” with news reports developed from isolated catchy or scandalous comments by politicians at rallies, which in many cases would be taken out of context.

To help strengthen the role media plays during elections, Media Monitors recommends that:

  1. For these and successive elections, media legislation must be reviewed to align these with provisions on freedom of expression and freedom of the media in the Constitution.
  2. More media players especially in the broadcasting sector must be licensed in line with Constitutional provisions that allow for freedom of establishment of broadcast media. This would enhance diversity of voices that represent various interests
  3. Election regulations on media coverage must be amended so that they clearly define the election period, and further articulate what fair and equitable coverage means
  4. Review the media coverage regulatory framework to ensure that there is an effective enforcement mechanism in place for monitoring compliance, receiving and acting upon infractions related to election reporting
  5. Stakeholders in the media must take measures to strengthen professional journalism outside the election period, as elections do not take place in a vacuum.

Source: Media Monitors

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