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Radio stations too close to Zanu-PF

04 Jul 2017 at 15:05hrs | Views
While local radio stations will be the conduit for delivering political parties' campaign messages ahead of the 2018 elections as they have a wider reach, there are others who feel most of the prominent stations are closely linked to the state and ruling Zanu-PF party.

Analysts and observers are skeptical because Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), which has four radio stations, and Zimpapers - with two radio stations (Star FM and Diamond FM) - all belong to the State while AB Communications owned by ICT minister Supa Mandiwanzira has three stations (ZiFM Stereo, Faya FM and Gogogoi FM).

Kingstons Trading, another State enterprise, operates Nyaminyami FM in Kariba and KE 100.4 FM in Harare.

With elections around the corner, will these radio stations give equal space to contesting political parties as espoused in the Constitution of Zimbabwe?

Zimpapers Group Public Relations and Corporate Affairs manager Beatrice Tonhodzayi said the Broadcasting Services Act clearly states that all political parties must be given equal opportunities when it comes to election advertising.

Zimpapers owns a national and a regional station; Star FM and Diamond FM respectively.

"Our radio stations are guided by the law when it comes to election advertising. However; this kicks in only when the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) has communicated the political parties that are participating in an election and when they declare the election dates. Thus; we shall stand guided.

"On the issue of censorship, the law, according to the Broadcasting Services Act, says that we may not edit or alter any advertisement submitted for transmission.

"However, it is important to note that the Broadcasting Services Act also allows room for stations to reject advertisements provided reasons are given.

"This is key; because; as a business, we have our own policies that guide us in terms of what we air and what we do not. That means we can use our discretion around political advertising as we do with all other advertisements," said Tonhodzayi.

ZiFM stereo executive Susan Makore concurred: "The guidelines are clear from Zec and during election period they guide broadcasters on how to conduct advertising during election. Broadcasters are guided by that."

The Daily News spoke to a number of analysts on important radio was to shaping the 2018 election.

Media practitioner Tabani Moyo said Zimbabwe; by its construct, is a radio nation as it is the most accessible medium of communication in the country.

"This is mainly because of its cost effective nature. However, we are equally aware of the balance of forces in terms of ownership and how it might compromise impartial reporting ahead of the elections.

"However, given the fact that the bulk of the stations are commercial in outlook, they must think sustainability and avoid the trap of focusing on narrow political reportage," said Moyo.

He added though that the most profound is that State-owned radio stations have a constitutional obligation to be impartial, fair and give equal access to all political parties.

"In this regard, Zec should move with speed to request for the schedule of their programming way in time in line with the constitutional provisions.

"The end result in all this is the need for the radio stations to invest in high quality programmes, reach and competitiveness," said Moyo.

Political commentator Vivid Gwede said radio stations have a good chance of being very relevant for the next election only if they give people all sides of the story.

"Our political dialogue as well as our prospects for development can be more enriched if these stations cover our elections without bias.

"But then one has to look at the ownership which is what can influence editorial policy, there appears that most stations, if not all, have links with the ruling party.

"There is a likelihood that people who look forward to fair coverage of all parties will be disappointed because he who pays the piper calls the tune," said Gwede.

Legislator Jessie Majome said her worry is that radio stations will not give the opposition equal or fair coverage during the elections as they are all either State-owned, controlled or aligned.

"Media freedom guaranteed by section 61 of the Constitution is more necessary than ever. I don't see Zec having the muscle or spine to enforce the Constitution's requirement for equal campaign coverage.

"Sadly, the Constitutional Court decided in my ZBC case to maintain ZBC's ruling party bias."

Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe staffer Faith Ndlovu said: "Radio, by virtue of its wide reach, will definitely be influential in terms of covering the elections, especially in marginalised communities that don't have access to the infrastructure for television or newspapers.

"These communities are also negatively affected by the digital divide.

"Public media have a responsibility to offer equitable, fair, balanced and accurate coverage of contesting parties and other information around the electoral process, so adherence to the standards and principles of professional journalistic practice is critical.

"On the other end, privately-owned radio stations also have a responsibility to ensure that they provide fair and accurate coverage of the electoral process and contesting parties despite what they might consider to be their preferred candidates and parties."

MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu said ZBC controls four radio stations that are essentially pro-Zanu-PF and rabidly anti-opposition; particularly the MDC-led by Morgan Tsvangirai.

"We have two so-called private radio stations that are basically an extension of the ZBC radio stations. If you listen to the news bulletins of these two so-called private radio stations, then you will get to know that they are actually competing with ZBC radio stations to be pro-Zanu-PF.

"Radio is, no doubt, a very powerful tool of mass communication because it can reach many corners of the country faster than newspapers, for instance," said Gutu.

He added that they were not banking upon the Zanu-PF government relaxing its tight grip on the electronic media.

"As such, we are exploring other alternative means of communicating our message to the people of Zimbabwe.

"Social media is the new game in town. More people are relying on social media for news instead of tuning in to the six national radio stations that operate in Zimbabwe."

Arts practitioner Josh Nyapimbi said: "Coverage is unlikely to improve as has always been the case where it's made available it will be paid for and heavily censored."

Source - dailynews
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