Coverage of Elections by the Media – Position Paper

Executive Summary

The media’s performance in covering elections in Zimbabwe – in terms of professional conduct and quality reporting – has consistently fallen short of international, regional and local standards of good journalism. While the country’s electoral law and media regulations guide election related content, enforcement mechanisms to ensure compliance have been weak. The structure of the media, which lacks diversity and its dominated by media with links to the ruling party, and the conduct of media personnel as they gather news has also impacted on the nature of coverage.

Current Electoral law and regulatory framework

Zimbabwe’s electoral law and regulations provide a framework on the media’s conduct during elections. The provisions seek to broadly provide for equitable and fair representation of political players in media programmes, news and advertising around elections. The Electoral Act and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Media Coverage of Elections Regulations S1 33 of 2008) provides for:

  1. Election programmes to be broadcast on television and radio, as well as the equal allocation of airtime to parties and candidates
  2. Rules around election adverts where a public broadcaster is required to set aside time for election adverts, and other media are required to provide the same conditions to all parties for the publication or airing of political adverts
  3. Fair, accurate, complete and balanced programmes in both radio and television
  4. That programmes, adverts and publications must not incite violence, or advocate hatred based on race, ethnicity, sex, gender, religion or political conviction that constitutes incitement to cause harm
  5. A media monitoring committee and an appeal mechanism for aggrieved candidates and parties Main challenges in election coverage

Compliance with rules by media houses to ensure fairness and equitability of coverage has remained poor, Media houses either partially comply with the law, ignore some of the provisions or blatantly violate rules. The non- compliance with the law is exacerbated by the lack of a clear enforceable mechanism by the electoral commission that ensures this compliance. The following have been observed as the main challenges in electoral coverage by the media.

  1. Partisan nature of reporting by public and private media
  2. Inaccurate, unbalanced and biased reporting by media
  3. Unbalanced political advertising that disadvantages political players who have limited financial resources, which includes new and smaller parties
  4. State media bias in the representation of political players in contravention of constitutional provisions
  5. Unequal representation of the opposition and lesser known political parties, as well as social groups that include women and youths
  6. Unprofessional conduct by media personnel, including involvement as candidates in elections, while still employed by newsrooms and capture by political parties and candidates
  7. Poor quality information produced on elections
  8. Propaganda and hate speech in the media
  9. Rampant hate speech, disinformation, propaganda and propaganda around elections online
  10. Weak regulatory mechanism on elections that failed to ensure compliance to the law.

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Source: Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN)