Zimbabwe’s main opposition party the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), on Thursday welcomed a ruling by the Masvingo High Court, declaring that the country’s two public media – Zimpapers and the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) - violated the constitution by not giving fair access and coverage to opposition parties, in last year’s elections.
In his ruling, Wednesday, on a case brought before the court by Veritas, a platform that informs citizens on laws and parliamentary decisions, ZimLive quoted Justice Joseph Mafusire saying, there was “evident bias of the public media in this country in favor of the Zanu-PF party, its leadership, members and supporters. They enjoy a disproportionate amount of coverage in both the electronic and print media.”
ZimOnline also quoted Justice Mafusire ordering ZBC and Zimpapers, to “exercise impartiality and independence in the editorial content of their broadcast or other communication,” and that they should “ensure that their communications do not show bias in favor of one political party or its candidates against another.”
Reacting to the ruling, MDC Deputy National Spokesman Luke Tamborinyoka said the ruling validated their claims of bias by ZBC and Zimpapers, against the opposition parties.
“I can say the ruling just proved what we have been saying all along, that ZBC is like a referee who throws away the whistle and joins the other team,” said Tamborinyoka. “If you look at the constitution it says that ZBC is supposed to treat all parties equally, it’s supposed to treat all candidates equally, and make sure the coverage they give on radio and television, as the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, is the same. That is the constitution that was drawn up by Zimbabweans in 2013.”
Going forward, however, Tamborinyoka said it is important to see how the ruling will be able to ensure that companies like ZBC and Zimpapers comply with the country’s constitution.
Tamborinyoka says he plans to visit ZBC and Zimpapers, as he’s already done with other media houses such as the Alpha Media Holdings (AMH), the privately run media group that publishes NewsDay, Zimbabwe Independent and The Standard.
“In the next few days we’ll go to The Herald (published by Zimpapers), then we’ll go to ZBC and we’ll talk them, and openly ask them is they see what the Constitution is saying, and what the High Court ruling is saying,” said Tamborinyoka. “We want to see if these men will start following what the Constitution is saying, the constitution that was endorsed by the citizens of Zimbabwe through a referendum on the 16th of May, 2013.”
Media lawyer for the Media Institute of Southern Africa-Zimbabwe (Misa), Kuda Hove, told Studio 7 he is happy with the ruling as it validates what he and colleagues have observed, and urge the ZBC to be neutral. Hove said he plans to use the ruling to push for better application of the law where it comes to media compliance.
“We believe the ruling will give people the opportunity to sit down and examine how ZBC and Zimpapers cover issues related to the opposition,” said Hove.
While hopeful that the ruling will awaken citizen’s awareness of the bias in coverage from state media, Hove doubts that ZBC and Zimpapers will change their habit overnight. He however believes the ruling offers media advocacy groups like his, a stronger advantage from which to push for more fair and balanced coverage.
“I think the importance of the ruling will be that it will give advocacy bodies like Misa, MAZ (Media Alliance of Zimbabwe) and other bodies, a starting point to sit down with government and ask them to commit to making sure that coverage from the Herald, Chronicle and ZBC are balanced and fair,” Hove said.
Despite applause from media groups and the opposition for the court ruling, political analyst and Zanu-PF member Gadzira Chirumhanzu dismissed the notion that fairer coverage would have won the opposition the election, and argued that Zanu-PF won because people voted for it.
“Politics are not won from the newspapers, politics are not won from people talking, but politics are won by (someone) being voted for,” said Chirumhanzu. “Right now there is no one who can challenge the fact that Zanu-PF was voted for, because the results are there,” he said.
The Constitutional Court, following a challenge of the results by the MDC Alliance, determined Mnangagwa’ s victory over the opposition candidate, Nelson Chamisa.
Political analyst Bekezela Gumbo of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute said ultimately, the ruling does not have any impact now, because the elections are over. Gumbo said the ruling would have had more relevance before the elections took place.
Gumbo further warned against any change in practice from the public media, because he said the government seldom adheres to court orders.
Several observer missions that monitored Zimbabwe’s elections, also noted the public media bias against the opposition groups, and noted that in their reports.
Zimbabwe’s Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi told parliament that government has taken into consideration concerns raised by observer groups and other media stakeholders, and plans to adopt changes before the next elections.