AU observers criticise ‘biased’ election coverage
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”.