ZBC,Zimpapers bias slammed in landmark ruling

A Harare High Court judge has said there is evidence that the country’s public media is heavily biased towards Zanu PF, its leadership and members in ruling that is likely to have serious ramifications on how the state institutions operate in the future.

In his written ruling, Justice Joseph Mafusire said Zanu PF enjoyed disproportionate coverage on ZBC and Zimpapers titles, with the party only receiving positive coverage while the opposition bore the brunt of negative news.

“Opinion pieces by guest writers, especially in the print media disgorge hate and inflammatory language,” Mafusire wrote.

The judge said the country’s laws were explicit that public media should be independent, disseminate free, fair and balanced information, must grant equal opportunity to all political parties and must refrain from publishing hate speech.

On its part, ZBC claimed that equitable coverage was impossible because of Zanu PF’s “sheer size” as it was the only party that could field candidates in every constituency in the country, something that even the MDC was unable to.

But the judge said once a party was registered and was competing for political power, it deserves a fair amount of coverage.

“State owned media are national assets,” Mafusire declared. “They must be accessible to all.”

He added that Zimbabweans had a right to “receive fair, unbiased, and divergent views to enable them to make informed choices”.

Mafusire ordered ZBC to exercise impartiality and independence in the editorial content of its broadcasts and to offer fair opportunity for the presentation of divergent views and dissenting opinions by ensuring that their communications do not show bias in favour of one political party or its candidates against others.

Legal watchdog, Veritas, together with trustees Valerie Ingham-Thorpe and Brian Crozier filed cited ZBC, Zimpapers, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, the Zimbabwe Media Commission and the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe as respondents in a petition that was filed before last year’s elections.

Among the critical material that they used for the lawsuit were reports from Media Monitors Zimbabwe.

In the lawsuit, the applicants proved that state media was heavily biased towards President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who received 87 percent of coverage, against his closet rival, the MDC’s Nelson Chamisa.

Zimpapers chickened out of the hearing, with the publisher saying it was ready to comply with the law.

Why this matters

ZBC and Zimpapers have routinely been accused of bias in favour of Zanu PF, accusations they easily swatted away.

Days before Mafusire’s judgement, BAZ, ZEC and ZMC released reports claiming they were satisfied with the way the media covered the 2018 elections.

“According to observations made by the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe, both radio and television channels managed to discharge their obligations in compliance with both the Zimbabwe Electoral Act and the Statutory Instrument 33 of 2008,” BAZ said, as per Herald report.

“The Zimbabwe Media Commission makes a similar conclusion on the print media during the period under review.”

The government is in the process of amending the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which will be replaced by three laws.

Obesrvers will be keen to see how the new laws guarantee the independence of public media institutions.

What next

It is not clear how the judge’s ruling will be enforced and what punitive measures the state media face if they violate the law.

The Accent