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Media Critical Before, During And After Elections-ZMC

By Shingirai Vambe

Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) has called on the media to play its expected role as the fourth estate before, during and after 2023 general elections.

Speaking to editors of various media houses in Harare last week, chairperson of the Zimbabwe Media Commission, Prof Ruby Magosvongwe said it is the expectation of all that media should play its critical part in the creation of a safe environment for holding peaceful and credible elections.

“We call upon editors as gatekeepers to advance the national cause in our day to day reportage. The media must be objective and factual in the coverage of political and electoral process. Citizens should depend or have confidence in what comes out of the media. To this end, the commission, with the assistance of UNESCO, has produced an elections reporting manual to equip media practitioners on how to report the forthcoming elections,”Magosvongwe said.

Zimbabwean journalists from independent media houses have had challenging times in the past with many of them having been arrested for lawfully discharging their duties and none has been convicted.

Zimbabwe police ask for travel documents at a road block in Mbare.

Some journalists from private media houses, at one instance, were barred from covering a breakfast meeting at State House, showing an uneven level playing field for the media in Zimbabwe.

During the media engagement, various issues were raised.

Proposals were made of extending the annual accreditation process to at least once in 2 or 3 years as well as not writing name of media houses on press cards as it is disadvantaging those in the private media when covering state functions.

A call was made to look into the bill and the co-regulations which are current, and majority of practitioners don’t have a clue on these documents.

Magosvongwe said the ZMC like other independent commissions, is expected to monitor compliance with the constitutional provisions across the public and private sectors, to receive complaints from the public and to take appropriate action where necessary.

She added that the ZMC Act requires the Commission to investigate any action that threaten freedom of the press and of expression.

Editors who attended the meeting requested that the ZMC and the Ministry of Information engage with practitioners to breakdown the bill and co-regulations, majority of them having become freelancers and not represented in either of the associations or organizations which previously engaged with the Commission, their views and opinions is of paramount importance for the work they do.

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services, Nick Mangwana said there is lack of professionalism in the media where professionals are trying to out-scoop the citizen journalist and in some cases even to out sensationalize them.

Mangwana stepped on one of the most critical areas affecting women and girls across the business divide; that of sex pests.

“The cries from the harassed female journalists have reached the ministry.

“The studio, newsrooms and editorial rooms have become something else. We are calling on all those media houses with no tight sexual harassment policies to do so and ensure that they are adhered to,” Mangwana said.

Blessed Mhlanga and Chenge to Chidi arrested in Chitungwiza during by-elections. Pic By Shingirai Vambe

Mangwana spoke of media capture, either by state or foreign nations.

“You say the state has captured the media, but western countries are working with some independent media houses and individuals in this country, isn’t that media capture,” asked Mangwana?

Journalists also bemoaned preferential and bureaucratic treatment in trying to access information in state entities.

Safety of journalists in the coming election is not guaranteed as shown during the by-elections period when journalists where attacked by ZANU PF members in Gokwe.

The media remains under resourced and the current economic environment has proved not to be conducive for the media to operate freely in an objective manner.

Magosvongwe however urged editors to continue engaging with ZMC so that the work of journalists becomes easier. She said ZMC will soon be conducting workshops with journalists on the new manual for election coverage.