By Professor Matodzi
Harare, September 2, 2013 – Zimbabwean media lobby bodies have slammed the recommendation by the SADC Election Observation Mission (SEOM) which on Monday called for the disbanding of exiled radio and television stations.
Bernard Membe, the Tanzanian Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Minister, who led SEOM during last month’s harmonised elections, on Monday told journalists, diplomats and some Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) officials that all exiled radio and television stations should cease conducting broadcasts into Zimbabwe.
Membe, who labeled the radio stations as “pirate” said SEOM had concluded during its observation of the July 31 elections that they were biased along political party lines even though the radio stations are popular in Zimbabwe, where they broadcast some balanced programmes which accommodate different political party representatives and actors.
“….SEOM recommends that pirate media should end their operation forthwith,” reads part of the summary statement issued by SEOM in the capital Harare at a briefing called for the launch of the observers final election report. However, the full election report could not be availed at the launch and Membe promised access to the report once it’s delivered to Zimbabwe from SADC headquarters in Botswana.
Besides Radio VOP, stations providing news and current events programing to the troubled southern African country from abroad include VOA’s Studio 7, Short Wave Radio Africa based in the UK and 1st tv, which operates from South Africa.
Responding to SEOM’s statement, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) commented that claims that exiled radio broadcasts are illegal overlook the absence of independent players in the Zimbabwean broadcasting sector.
“It is wrong to classify those radio stations as pirate because they are filling a void created by the partisan nature of the national broadcaster. For the record ZBC and its various channels have and continue to be an appendage of Zanu PF. This was exemplified during the just ended electioneering campaign where they appeared as the Zanu PF campaign machinery. It (ZBC) had denied Zanu PF perceived enemies a voice so these perceived enemies were forced to turn to these radio stations run by Zimbabweans,” said MISA-Zimbabwe chapter chairperson Njabulo Ncube, one of the veteran journalists in Zimbabwe.
Ncube protested that the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe had scuttled bids by some of the exiled radio stations to secure broadcasting licences.
“They are not pirate because wherever they operate from they are operating legally. It is misplaced to call them pirate. While some of the so-called pirate radio stations have been invited to regularise their operations, Zanu PF have decided to cherry pick who to award licenses to. The chairperson of Zimbabwe Newspapers which runs Star FM radio station, Dr Paul Chimedza is now the Member of Parliament for Zanu PF in Masvingo and the chief executive officer and founder of Zifm is now the legislator for Zanu PF in Nyanga. These are the pirate radio stations because they represent Zanu PF,” Ncube said.
The Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ) told Radio VOP that SADC had no mandate to shut down the radio stations but should rather lobby them to improve their content.
“The issue is not necessarily the medium of transmission of the information but the content which must be more accurate and fair. Their closure is not the issue. SEOM is better placed to urge them to broadcast in a balanced and fair manner as opposed to seek their closure. There won’t be any direct democratic benefit to any political party of Zimbabwean in urging shortwave radio stations to close down. The issue of short wave radio stations is generally a matter for the International Telecommunications Union (ITU),” said VMCZ executive director Takura Zhangazha.
The ITU is a specialised agency of the United Nations that is responsible for issues that concern information and communication technologies and coordinates the shared global use of the radio spectrum and promotes international cooperation in assigning satellite orbits.
The MDC-T party also slammed the SADC team’s statement as misleading.
“….the MDC notes with grave concern the report’s failure to properly put into context the enormity and magnitude of the problem presented by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s failure to avail the voters roll to candidates on time. The report’s attempt to compare the extent of bias by the state media with what they refer to as “pirate radio stations” and or the private media is quite misleading. It defies any logic that the report raises quite some disturbing issues with regards to process and handling of the just ended election and still continues to declare the outcome as credible,” the MDC-T said in a statement issued after Membe’s comments.
SADC which early this month declared the elections won by Zanu PF leader Robert Mugabe as free and fair once again endorsed the elections as credible but fell short on making pronouncements on the fairness of the elections.