The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) on Monday said it will start taking action against journalists and media houses for "unbalanced and unfair reporting" as the country heads for national elections.
Addressing editors from different media houses, ZEC chairperson Justice Rita Makarau said the electoral body has already started monitoring news reports to ensure biased reporting is rooted out of election coverage.
She said peace should prevail in the country before, during and after the elections that are expected to end President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s shaky coalition government.
By law, all media become accountable to ZEC from the day the president announces the dates of the elections for the duration of what is termed the election period. Justice Makarau said ZEC went into the media supervision mode last week when Mr. Mugabe proclaimed elections would be held July 31st.
She said ZEC was aware of Saturday’s call by Southern African Development Community leaders for Harare to ask the constitutional court to push the polls to a later date but said until the date changes, her commission is working towards a July 31st election.
A court extension, if granted, would allow the unity government to implement reforms specified by the 2008 Global Political Agreement, particularly in the media and security sectors, that the MDC and others believe have not been implemented.
Ms. Makarau said the Electoral Act empowers ZEC, with the assistance of the Zimbabwe Media Commission and the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe, to monitor the media during the election period to ensure fair and balanced reporting of all political parties and candidates.
“Section 160J of the same Act lays out a Code of Conduct for all broadcasters and print media publishers during an election,” she said. “The main import of this section compels you to treat all political parties and candidates equitably.”
The Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation has previously come under fire for biased reporting and using hate speech targeting perceived Zanu-PF opponents. Justice Makarau said the ZBC must ensure that all political parties have equitable access to the broadcaster as required by the law.
“This section requires all of you to ensure that your current affairs programs or features relating to the elections are presented in a balanced manner, that they are fair and presented in an accurate manner,” she said.
Offending journalists and media houses will appear before the commission, she added.
Justice Makarau said political party leaders must ensure that the election is violence free, adding journalists should be protected from overzealous party activists during the election period.
Speaking on the on-going mobile voter registration exercise, ZEC deputy chairperson Joyce Kazembe, said the process, which started last week, was going on well with huge turnouts of first time voters being recorded.
But MDC lawmakers in the cities are complaining that officers from the Registrar General’s office are taking their time to register voters resulting in the mobile teams from to other areas before capturing all eligible voters.
Harare North lawmaker Theresa Makone says the mobile registration teams were concentrating on perceived Zanu PF strongholds and registering less people in areas known to be MDC strongholds.
“I am very dissatisfied with what has happened in my constituency,” said Makone. “The way I see it is that the game this time is not about intimidation. It is about playing with the voters’ roll. They have done their calculations and they think enough of their own people have been registered so they don’t want to put anymore new people on the roll because then those are not their people.”
Makone adds the most affected people are the so-called aliens who are still failing to register as voters regardless of new regulations allowing them to participate in the country’s electoral process.