The director of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) in Zimbabwe says both ZANU-PF and rival party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), have failed to ensure media freedom in the run up to Wednesday’s general election.
Both President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai were part of a coalition government following the violence after the disputed 2008 election.
Nhlanhla Ngwenya says the lack of media freedom has stifled the work of journalists across the country ahead of the vote.
“Our main challenge has been related to the fact that we are going to hold this election without any tangible reforms with regards to liberalizing the media space,” said Ngwenya.
Ngwenya says the ZANU-PF and the MDC demonstrated a lack of political will to implement media protection measures when both were in the coalition government. He says many journalists have been attacked for their reports on political developments in the run-up to this week’s elections.
“Another issue has been the extra-legal hindrances in the conduct of journalism working in Zimbabwe, where we have witnessed beatings, arrests by political activists and the barring of circulation of [news]papers in some communities,” said Ngwenya.
He says the government is also stifling the freedom of speech by expelling some foreign journalists before the election.
“So far, we have heard two journalists that have been sent away. That is a major cause for concern because clearly if you are conducting an election transparently and you have nothing to hide, why not allow journalists to watch over the management of this whole process?” asked Ngwenya.
He says the government is to blame for the lack of media reforms needed to ensure a level playing field for political parties in the election. Ngwenya says the state broadcaster appears to favor candidates from the ZANU-PF party.
“This is a manifestation of the failure by the inclusive government to put in place adequate safeguards, from insulating the public media from political manipulation and abuse,” said Ngwenya.
Official campaigning ended Monday ahead of Wednesday’s vote. Prime Minister Tsvangirai is expected to provide stiff competition to long-time President Mugabe. Tsvangirai’s MDC party has accused the ZANU-PF of planning to rig the elections. ZANU-PF denies the accusations.