Thursday, September 16, 2021
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High Court admonishes ZBC, Zimpapers for bias

TellZim Reporter
THE Masvingo High Court has ordered the Zimbabwe Broadcasting
Corporation and the Zimbabwe Newspapers to exercise impartiality and
independence in both their broadcast and editorial content by ensuring that
their communications do not show bias in favour of one political party or its
candidates against each other.
The landmark judgment delivered this week by Justice
Joseph Mafusire found both the ZBC and the Zimpapers, the publishers of The
Herald
 and The Sunday Mail among many others, to be
in breach of Section 61 of the Constitution which guarantees freedom of
expression and freedom of the media.
“It is hereby declared that the first (ZBC) and second
(Zimpapers) respondents have conducted themselves in material breach of section
61 of the constitution in that they have not been impartial and free to
determine independently the editorial content of their broadcasts or other
communication.
“There is cogent evidence from independent and dispassionate
sources of the evident bias of the public media in this country in favour of
the Zanu PF party, its leadership, members and supporters. They enjoy a
disproportionate amount of coverage in both the electronic and print media,”
ruled Mafusire.
The judgment follows an application brought by Veritas just
before the July 2018 harmonised elections, through their lawyer Doug Coltart,
asking the court for an order directing state media to be objective.
Passing Judgment in Veritas’ favour, Justice Mafurise said the
ZBC and Zimpapers were in breach of the constitution “in that they have not
afforded fair opportunity for the presentation of divergent views and
dissenting opinions.
Justice Mafusire ruled that the country’s Constitution and
Parliament were conscious of the need to “safeguard multi-party democracy and
combat one-party state governance.
“The respondents (ZBC and Zimpapers) are all critical players in
any plebiscite. By the powers reposed and vested in them by law and social
contract, they individually or collectively make or break an election. They can
make or break a nation. They can foster democracy or stifle it. The applicants
(Veritas) are in principle entitled to the relief they seek,” reads the ruling.
As the case dragged on well after the elections, the ZBC argued
that “the matter has been overtaken by events” but the judge said the issues
being raised broadly addressed the duties of the public media in Zimbabwe at
all times, but particularly at election times.
Interestingly, Zimpapers did not to contest the application.
The ZBC also claimed the MDC in particular had not shared its
diary of events to enable it to cover such events.
The public broadcaster, which enjoys a TV monopoly, also argued
through its lawyers that equitable coverage is not possible in the Zimbabwean
context because Zanu PF fielded candidates in every seat, which its rivals
failed to do.
“If a political party is registered it becomes entitled to fair
and equitable access to the public media,” Mafusire said in the ruling.
The judge cited the case of the Ghanaian political party, the
New Patriotic Front vs Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, in which Justice
Francois said: “A denial of opportunity for the expression of opposing views,
inherent in a democracy, would amount to moves which may culminate in the creation
of a monolithic government which is only one step removed from a one-party
government.
He said the ZBC and Zimpapers’ political programmes were
“largely positive only in respect of the Zanu PF party, but largely negative in
respect of the opposition parties, particularly the MDC Alliance.
“Opinion pieces by guest writers, especially in the print media,
disgorge hate and inflammatory language,” reads the ruling.
The bias was noted by several local and international election
observer missions.
Media Monitors said Zanu PF had an 87 percent slice of the
political coverage on ZBC, and 63 percent in Zimpapers publications including
The Herald, The Chronicle and the Sunday Mail.
“Among other things, the analysis by Media Monitors is quite
scientific. They compared like with like. It has balance. It is objective. On
the other hand, the ZBC’s Annexure J is largely meaningless. It conceals more
than it reveals. It does not compare anything with anything,” the ruling reads.

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