With Zimbabwe set to hold by-elections later this month, the need for access to information is even more pronounced as this is the surest way to ensure that voters are well informed so they can make their choices at the polls.
The best way to ensure that citizens are informed is through public media, particularly the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) – a national broadcaster – which also has the widest reach.
Without getting bogged down on definitions, ZBC should act as a public broadcaster by giving equitable time to all the parties contesting the elections.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa has always reiterated his desire for Zimbabwe to hold free and fair elections.
However, as long as ZBC does not grant parties equitable, fair and accurate access to the national broadcaster, then free and fair elections will always remain a mirage in this country.
The importance of access to the public broadcaster is underscored by Section 160G of the Electoral Act, which among other things states that “public broadcasters shall afford all political parties and independent candidates contesting an election such free access to their broadcasting services as may be prescribed.”
Furthermore, the Act states that candidates should receive “a fair and balanced allocation of time”.
In previous elections, ZBC has not covered itself in glory in terms of giving equitable access to candidates, particularly opposition and independent candidates.
This anomaly was picked up in 2018 by the African Union and European Union election observer missions, among others.
Going into the March 26 by-elections, it does not look like ZBC has learnt from the mistakes of the past polls and is again giving the chunk of airtime to one party – that is the governing party.
It might seem inconsequential to those in power, but denying other parties access to ZBC only serves to shine the spotlight on the government’s lack of democratic credentials and dents Mnangagwa’s credibility.
ZBC has so far published a schedule on how it would afford candidates equitable access to the broadcaster.
While this is a good start, the main news at 8pm should be also reflective of the political context, rather than remain a campaign slot for one party and the bashing of others.
The credibility of this election begins with every party receiving equitable access to the broadcaster so that citizens make an informed choice about how they want to be governed.
ZBC – that as a national broadcaster, owned by the citizens of Zimbabwe –has a duty to comply with the Electoral Act and extant court rulings to ensure that every candidate has access to the broadcaster. It has a constitutional mandate to promote pluralism and diversity.
ZBC should not be seen as a partisan outfit, but rather a broadcaster that serves all Zimbabweans regardless of political affiliations.
Nyasha Nyakunu is the Programmes Coordinator for MISA Zimbabwe. He writes in his personal capacity