The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) is set to monitor the coverage of political parties by media outlets in the country towards elections later this year, a senior official has said.
In an interview with ZiFM, a local radio station, on Monday night, Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Permanent Secretary, Mr George Charamba, said the development would take effect after President Mnangagwa proclaims election dates.
“As we move toward elections, all media institutions private or public are placed under the authority of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission,” he said. “It means George Charamba loses control of ZBC, both radio and television, ZiFM, Star FM, which is a Zimpapers proposition or any other electronic media, because they have to account for their behaviour to ZEC.
“The same also applies to the newspapers and the law is very clear, if you allow editorial which is political for one party, you must then even it out by offering the same to other political parties.”
Mr Charamba said it was constitutional that ZEC monitored the media to enable a level playing field during the campaign and election period.
“So, really, the behaviour of the media for the duration of elections is going to come under the auspices of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, which is why we surrender both the Zimbabwe Media Commission and Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) to sub serve their own services to ZEC and not to the ministry,” said Mr Charamba, who is also the Presidential spokesman.
“This takes effect once the President proclaims election dates.”
Mr Charamba said President Mnangagwa was likely to proclaim election dates in July, according to the Constitution.
In the wide-ranging interview, Mr Charamba said his office had received a document on the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), but he had reservations on its provisions.
“Why don’t we have AIPPA, what is it about AIPPA that is objectionable?” he said. “This is exactly my biggest problem. Just now, I have had a submission from the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) and they raised that paper on the basis of two purported considerations.
“One, to say that AIPPA was out of sync with the new Constitution and the second aspect was that AIPPA was standing in the way of a level playing field in the impending 2018 harmonised elections.
“But I went through, meticulously, the submission from MISA. I was hard put to find any particular element related to the Constitution of Zimbabwe. If anything, they were raising issues to do with child protection simply because they thought that child protection clauses would be contained in AIPPA, yet we have a whole Act that protects children.”
Mr Charamba said in the document, MISA was also focusing on other matters that had nothing to do with AIPPA.
“They were also raising issues about the right to be forgotten, which is not a constitutional issue, but an emerging issue from social media, which many jurisdictions are still grappling with and over which there is no closure,” he said.
“Of which really we went through that whole document, I had difficulties in putting my finger on any issue that I would trace back to the Constitution.”
Mr Charamba emphasised that any statutory provision, which was out of sync with the Constitution becomes ultra vires the Constitution.
He said in terms of elections, he was also of the same view that AIPPA had to be updated to make it in sync with the ever changing media environment.
“On that one we are together,” said Mr Charamba. “As a matter of fact, this particular week, barring other circumstances, I intend to invite the Minister of Justice to our office so that we can read the submissions on AIPPA, as well as BSA, together to ascertain if they have any issues that they have raised.
“As you are aware there is a whole draft of provisions that are before Parliament, which will be considered ahead of elections.”
As part of electoral reforms, political parties have called for the opening of airwaves, particularly in the public media, to ensure equitable coverage.