AU ob­servers crit­i­cise ‘bi­ased’ elec­tion cov­er­age

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - WORLD - PETER FABRI­CIUS

HARARE: AU elec­tion ob­servers in Zimbabwe yes­ter­day crit­i­cised national broad­caster the Zimbabwe Broad­cast­ing Cor­po­ra­tion (ZBC) for its bi­ased cov­er­age of the elec­tion cam­paign be­fore Wed­nes­day’s poll.

The AU’s Long Term Ob­server (LTO) Mis­sion com­pris­ing nine peo­ple, has been in Zimbabwe since June 15 to as­sess if the broader en­vi­ron­ment in the coun­try is con­ducive for free and fair elec­tions.

To­day, for­mer Nige­rian pres­i­dent Oluse­gun Obasanjo is set to ar­rive in the coun­try to head the AU’s team mon­i­tor­ing the elec­tion and af­ter­math, in­clud­ing an­nounce­ment of re­sults.

In its pre-elec­tion state­ment is­sued yes­ter­day while AU Com­mis­sion chair­woman Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma was in Zimbabwe, the ob­servers said: “The LTO Mis­sion notes that the national broad­caster has tended to pro­vide live and in-depth cov­er­age largely to a sin­gle po­lit­i­cal party.”

This was a clear ref­er­ence to the fact the ZBC is beam­ing al­most ex­clu­sive cov­er­age of the ral­lies of Zanu-PF leader Robert Mu­gabe, his wife, Grace, and other Zanu-PF lead­ers.

On Wed­nes­day, the first 25 min­utes of the evening news com­prised about 23 min­utes of Zanu-PF ral­lies, with about two min­utes of a poorly-at­tended rally of Mu­gabe’s chief pres­i­den­tial ri­val, Move­ment for Demo­cratic Change ( MDC) leader Mor­gan Ts­van­gi­rai, the prime min­is­ter.

The ob­servers noted that the Zimbabwe me­dia were highly po­larised, with the state me­dia back­ing Zanu-PF and the pri­vate me­dia back­ing the MDC.

It added the AU’s em­pha­sis was on the state broad­caster “which has a cen­tral role in elec­tions, in terms of the AU Char­ter (2007), to pro­vide a plat­form for air­ing po­lit­i­cal mes­sages or news cov­er­age em­a­nat­ing from all po­lit­i­cal con­tes­tants”.

It added that Zimbabwe’s new con­sti­tu­tion re­quired state me­dia to be im­par­tial.

How­ever, the AU ob­servers added af­ter their crit­i­cism: “The mis­sion ac­knowl­edges, how­ever, the marked im­prove­ment in po­lit­i­cal ad­ver­tis­ing from a num­ber of po­lit­i­cal par­ties in the pro­gram­ming of the state broad­caster in the last two weeks.”

More broadly, the ob­servers noted the views of sev­eral or­gan­i­sa­tions they spoke to that fun­da­men­tal free­doms might be cur­tailed if agreed re­forms to the Broad­cast­ing Ser­vices Act and the Pub­lic Or­der and Se­cu­rity Act were not car­ried out.

The AU ob­server mis­sion also noted the in­com­plete voter regis­tra­tion which left many po­ten­tial vot­ers un­reg­is­tered and also the chaos sur­round­ing the spe­cial vot­ing on July 14 and 15.

But it ex­pressed con­fi­dence th­ese prob­lems would be re­solved.

In con­trast, Ts­van­gi­rai said yes­ter­day that Zanu- PF had “lit­er­ally rail­roaded the na­tion into an elec­tion with all the in­gre­di­ents for chaos, con­tes­ta­tion and con­tro­versy”, adding he was par­tic­i­pat­ing in the elec­tion “with a heavy heart”.

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