Media and elections
MISA Zimbabwe subscribes to the notion that ‘elections define democracy while the media enlightens and sustains it.
For journalists, covering general elections is one of the most exciting experiences, but very demanding professionally. While the stakes might be very high for candidates and the competing parties and the welfare and future of countries, the media will be under serious spotlight on how it covers the elections.
The media’s traditional role is to inform the public on issues of the day accurately and fairly and need to do so while respecting a professional code of ethics.
This obligation is more critical during elections where citizens vote in leaders for central or local government authorities. Voters look up look to the media to inform them factually and fairly on the various parties, policies, personalities and programmes at play.
This places a big responsibility on the media and on the journalists, underlying the fact that the election story “begins yesterday and not today” – It begins months before polling and can continue way after the votes have been tallied.
Although the election story could be regarded as a “set piece” easier to report, in practice covering elections requires more professional skills than the usual run-of-the- mill story.
Another major primary concern during elections is that journalists covering elections must be able to work as safely as is possible if they are to get their stories out. This means being able to survive, avoid injury and incarceration.
The situation is further compounded several additional challenges facing freedom of expression and the media sector in the country. Key among them is the repressive legislative framework that remains antithetical to the current constitutional dispensation that begun in 2013. Whereas the constitution explicitly guarantees citizens' right to free expression, media freedom, the right to propagate their views and access to information the media sector remains littered with a gamut of legislative instruments that erode these freedoms. The regulation of the media sector also remains under the clutches of the old regulatory framework that is in discord with the constitution.
Besides the legislative hindrances Zimbabwe has also witnessed extra-judicial curtailment of media work through illegal detentions, harassment of journalists from the private media and readers of their products, beatings and banishment of certain media products by political activists. In 2016 alone, MISA-Zimbabwe recorded more than 31 cases of journalists who had been beaten up, briefly detained or harassed by members of law enforcement agents while conducting duty. This was despite the fact that all were accredited and legally doing their work. These and others remain the pitfalls of the impending 2018 general elections.