THE Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) has formed a committee to monitor local media, a move which observers said was tantamount to a clampdown on journalists covering electoral processes.
Zimbabwe will hold by-elections on March 26, while general elections are expected next year.
Addressing a Press briefing yesterday, Zec spokesperson Joyce Kazembe announced that Zec had activated a media monitoring committee, and would soon set up a “monitoring team” to ensure that the media adheres to its regulations.
Kazembe said the committee would comprise members of the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) and the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe, and would be chaired by Zec.
“The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is responsible for monitoring the media during election periods in terms of section 160 of the Electoral Act and Statutory Instrument (SI) 33 of 2008,” Kazembe said.
“This task is executed in collaboration with the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) for print media and the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe for the electronic media. The law compels the commission to attach a report on media monitoring to all election reports submitted to Parliament. In compliance with the above provisions of the law, the commission has activated the media monitoring committee to monitor the coverage of the upcoming by-elections.
“The commission appeals to the media and political players to also adhere to the media regulations, SI 33 of 2008 in the coverage of by elections. Be prepared to be monitored and that implies proper behaviour as you are expected to behave yourself when covering the elections.”
Media lawyer Chris Mhike said Zec’s move constituted over-regulation of media practitioners, adding that it could infringe on the freedom of journalists to gather and disseminate information.
Mhike said ZMC alone could perform its regulatory role without interference from Zec.
“For a long time now, scores of media practitioners, and various Press freedom advocates have complained that the media in Zimbabwe is over-regulated. The most recent announcement by Zec regarding the appointment of a media monitoring committee, is yet another clear confirmation that our electoral law is inimical to media freedom, and should, therefore, be amended, as a matter of urgency,” he told NewsDay.
“The electoral reforms that are long overdue within our jurisdiction include the enhancement of media freedom, partly through the drastic reduction of media regulators. Indeed, one of the key roles of the ZMC under the Constitution is to promote and enforce good practices and ethics in the media. The media monitoring role also forms part of the ZMC’s constitutional mandate. There is no good reason for the State to transfer these ZMC roles to Zec during electoral seasons.”
Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe executive director Loughty Dube said the committee should be inclusive of media stakeholders to promote transparency and credibility.
“While Zec is allowed by law to regulate the media on electoral processes, its committee should be inclusive of State and independent media bodies and also other professional media bodies. When it only constitutes State media bodies, it raises questions on the body’s credibility and transparency issues,” he said.
Media Institute of Southern Africa Zimbabwe chairperson Golden Maunganidze said the committee should work towards addressing the concerns of journalists to promote an environment conducive for their operations.
“Journalists should be allowed to cover the elections with passion, and without fear as they play a critical role to avail information to the public. The committee should work to ensure that the government addresses the issues that were raised by the United Nations observer missions to promote fair coverage of the political parties,” he said.
“We have been challenging the decision by Zec to regulate the media through dual accreditation. The demand for another accreditation fee by Zec will limit participation of journalists as some will not afford the fees. We are also concerned by the delays by the ZMC to offer accreditation to journalists as we have seen some journalists being harassed while covering elections when they do not have valid accreditation cards.”
Meanwhile, Zec torched a storm after it made another blunder last week during nomination of by-election candidates after some nominators of a Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) party candidate were not on the voters’ roll when they were registered as voters in 2018.
Zec chief elections officer Utoile Silaigwana yesterday admitted that the electoral body had erroneously omitted the four nominators on the voters’ roll.
Silaigwana admitted that it was an administrative error.
“Following reports of alleged tampering with the voters’ roll for ward 12 of Chinhoyi municipality during the nomination process by Mr Dyke Makumbi, a Citizens Coalition for Change political party candidate for ward 12 Chinhoyi municipality, Zec would like to advise stakeholders that we have checked the voters’ roll and can confirm that Mr Makumbi’s initial nominators, who inadvertently had been recorded as not on the voters’ roll, were registered to vote in 2018 and are eligible to vote in the forthcoming by-elections and the 2023 general elections,” he said.
“Zec would like to unreservedly apologise to the candidate and the four nominators who are all registered voters. The anomaly arose due to administrative errors which we can confirm have been corrected.”
The electoral body also revealed that it had set aside a $3,7 billion budget for the by-elections.