Zimbabwe's opposition says new public media regulations published by the government late Wednesday have come too late for the election on March 31. The government says political parties will be allowed to buy campaign advertisements and that free and fair media coverage will be allowed during the campaign.

The Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation is now legally allowed to accept paid advertisements from political parties for broadcast in the election period that begins on Februrary 26. But the new regulations say campaign material should have been handed to the ZBC by February 11.

Movement for Democratic Change secretary general Welshman Ncube says he wrote to the ZBC in early February about placing campaign advertisements, but was told to wait until the onset of the election period.

Mr. Ncube said the regulations now made it impossible for the MDC to advertise on Zimbabwe's only television and radio stations, which are government controlled.

Andrew Moyse, director of the Media Monitoring Project that observes media in Zimbabwe, said the new regulations would exclude the MDC from advertising, even if it had the money to buy air time. He said the MDC had not been allowed to advertise during the past two national polls.

Mr. Moyse said there was a High Court order from the 2000 parliamentary election ordering ZBC to provide fair and balanced news and current affairs. He said the ZBC consistently has ignored the order for the past five years. He said the state broadcaster is constitutionally bound to provide non-partisan news, which he said is ignored in every newscast on radio and television.

Mr. Moyse said when the Zanu PF Party launched its election campaign last week, the state broadcaster provided four hours of live coverage, and that the journalists and camera crews were all wearing Zanu PF campaign regalia. He said in the last national poll three years ago, Media Monitoring Projects statistics showed that 96 percent of political coverage was given to President Robert Mugabe's Zanu PF and the four percent in which the MDC was featured were negative or false reports.

The government's media regulations for the March election were drawn up by information minister Jonathan Moyo, who also crafted the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act that makes it illegal for journalists to work without accreditation.

It was under this legislation that Zimbabwe's only privately owned daily newspaper was banned in 2003. Many journalists have also been arrested under this law.

Mr. Moyo has rarely been seen in public since he was dropped from the Zanu PF politburo in December, following political infighting in the ruling party over who will succeed Mr. Mugabe.