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ZBC Now Grouped With Political Parties
Financial Gazette (Harare)
April 25, 2002
Posted to the web April 25, 2002
THE widely publicised attacks on the news crew of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) at political rallies by political party supporters and by soldiers at demonstrations bring yet another chance for debate on the role of the public broadcaster in Zimbabwe.
Without doubt any attack on any media personnel from anywhere for whatever reason is totally abhorrent and unacceptable.
The Zimbabwe situation is however gaining some form of peculiarity in that the public broadcaster is always under attack from certain political groups and is indeed always praised by the ruling party and the government.
The role of the ZBC as a public broadcaster has never been subjected to public debate in Zimbabwe since the country's independence in 1980.
What is becoming clear from the physical attacks being perpetrated on the ZBC crew is that there are certain political and social groups that see the public broadcaster as an active political player or, in other words, a mouthpiece for the ruling party. This means that the ZBC is being grouped together with political parties and activists.
From its reports and programming, it is clear that the public broadcaster has fallen into the hands of political spin-doctors and these people ultimately decide the structure of broadcasting Zimbabwe currently has.
Being the only broadcasting station in Zimbabwe and supported by taxpayers' money and using taxpayers infrastructure, there is need for the ZBC to enforce impartiality and serve the interests of the nation.
This cannot, however, be achieved under the current regulations, be it that which governs the ZBC or the Broadcasting Services Act 2001. These laws stifle free expression by the ZBC and ultimately affect fair coverage of issues.
The violent attacks on the ZBC crew are as a result of the anger in some quarters that the public broadcaster has not been fair in its coverage of national issues and events.
Addressing a Law Society public meeting in Harare, the chairperson of the Electoral Supervisory Commission, Sobusa Gula-Ndebele, acknowledged that the ZBC had not covered the elections fairly and that the observations of the commission were in a report to be presented to President Robert Mugabe. The Commonwealth observer team also made similar observations.
The use of inflammatory language by the ZBC even on fellow media houses and journalists is well-documented. Such words as "stooges", "unpatriotic", "racist", "oppositional", "puppets" and "terrorists" have become trademarks of the ZBC. Such inflammatory language has the effect of inciting political party supporters from both divides to carry out acts of violence.
This violence cannot be far from what has been happening to the ZBC when it tried to cover certain political rallies.
In terms of the use of hate speech and inflammatory language, the ZBC is in clear breach of Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which prohibits any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, violence or hostility.
The use of hate language, many will remember, contributed to the Rwandan genocide. Contrary to the statement made by one government minister arguing against the freeing of the airwaves, that a private radio station had contributed to the genocide in Rwanda, the truth is that the "private" radio station, Radio-Television Libre Des Mille Collines (RTLM), was an offshoot of the government.
This was so because the Rwandan government had come under pressure to stop the use of Radio Rwanda to promote hate speech after the earlier genocide that took place in March 1992, hence the formation of RTLM. The Rwandan situation, many will agree, must never be tolerated or allowed to take root in Zimbabwe.
The dominance of the ZBC in terms of reaching out to a wider audience cannot be disputed. This is so because of its broadly spread infrastructure.
This advantage can indeed be used to promote peace and development in Zimbabwe rather than violence that can ultimately catch up with its advocators. Peace and development is not only harping on about certain economic programmes like the land reform but also giving a voice to those with critical and differing views.
Any public broadcaster worth its salt must have a commitment to balanced scheduling and political content. This, as mentioned earlier, cannot however be achieved without a change of the legislation governing broadcasting in Zimbabwe. New regulations are needed that require the ZBC to provide reasonable access to differing points of view on public issues.
The opening up of the airwaves is not enough to guarantee a plurality of voices on the airwaves. This is so because the ZBC, unlike private players, is obliged to reach out to anyone in spite of economic considerations. Private stations might decide to reach out to particular groups and concentrate on limited programme issues.
At a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation conference held in Namibia in 2001 to celebrate 10 years of the Windhoek Declaration, which seeks to promote a free Press, delegates came up with an African Charter on Broadcasting. In terms of public broadcasting the charter calls for:
All state- and government-controlled broadcasters to be transformed into public service broadcasters that are accountable to all strata of the people as represented by an independent board that serves the public interests, avoiding one-sided reporting and programming in regard to religion, political belief, culture, race and gender.
The charter also calls for public broadcasting to be governed by bodies that are legally insulated from interference and that their editorial independence must be guaranteed.
The ZBC is under the yoke of the government through the appointment of a board by the minister of information. But the need for an independent body accountable to the people and not the minister is gaining wide acceptance all over the world.
There is therefore need for an independent board and Broadcasting Regulatory Authority in Zimbabwe if broadcasting is to be truly free and representative. Regulatory bodies, though largely the creations of politicians, are still expected to operate with a degree of independence and to be appointed transparently.
The attacks on the ZBC crew will not be solved by simply controlling political party thugs; these attacks mirror serious underlying problems that need to be solved through a broad and all-inclusive reform programme at Pockets Hill.
Rashweat Mukundu is a research and information officer with the Zimbabwe chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa.