Back to Index
Media Barometer - Zimbabwe 2012
December 12, 2012
PDF version (756KB)
If you do not have the free Acrobat reader
on your computer, download it from the Adobe website by clicking
2009 Zimbabwe has been ruled by an "inclusive government"
formed by the Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic
Front (ZANU-PF) and two formations of the Movement for Democratic
Change (MDC). This new government was based on a "Global
Political Agreement" (GPA) which formally recognised the
"importance of freedom of expression and the role of the media
in a multi-party democracy".
on the country remains deeply polarised between the two major political
forces and the struggle for political power between them is continuing
as Zimbabwe heads for elections which are supposed to take place
at the end of 2012 or in 2013. This struggle has been hampering
necessary reforms in many political and social sectors while some
progress has been made in regard to the economy. Despite this continuing
stagnation the political climate has relaxed a little over the last
two years since the AMB in 2010 and there are signs of progress
in the media sector which seem to have led to a slightly more optimistic
mood. Two years ago the market was dominated by government-controlled
newspapers. Since then formerly banned newspapers have re-appeared
and new publications have hit the streets. Two private radio stations
have been licensed - but still have to go on air. The self-regulatory
mechanisms of the (private) media have been strengthened.
positive developments, however, have their downsides, showing the
deep contradictions in present day Zimbabwe.
All old, new
and revived publications had to be registered with a statutory Zimbabwe
Media Commission (ZMC). When the Commission was formed in 2009,
media organisations were opposed to it because, as a statutory body,
it contradicts the principle of self-regulation of the media. For
the time being, however, media organisations are tolerating its
existence "grudgingly" as the only available legal means
to get new print media on the streets. They also had to put up with
the expectation that journalists apply for accreditation with the
ZMC if they want to work effectively and gain access to Parliament,
public bodies, national and state events.
At the time
of the panel meeting, the Zimbabwe Media Commission was planning
to set up a statutory media council. This media council is to run
parallel to the Voluntary
Media Council of Zimbabwe which provides members of the public
with an opportunity to lodge their complaints against the media
without resorting to legal redress. Media organisations have stated
categorically that they will not participate in such a statutory
media council. The ZMC is planning to go ahead regardless, whether
they are supported by the media or not.
whose legitimacy is contested not only by media organisations but
also by parts of the government Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)
is the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ). The current board
was appointed unilaterally by the Minister of Media, Information
and Publicity and is dominated by the minister's political
party ZANU PF. There are frequent calls by the MDC to revisit this
process and to constitute a legitimate Authority. All deadlines
set for these demands have long since passed and the minister has
publicly declared that he will not reconstitute the contested media
bodies. The BAZ has granted licences to two radio stations, one
being part of the Zimbabwe Newspapers Group (Zimpapers) stable which
runs pro-government newspapers and the other has been linked with
radio has been licensed although there are quite a number of initiatives
across the country ready to go on air. They have to wait for the
BAZ to invite applications for licences - but these invitations
have not been coming forward. This could be taken as an indication
of the mistrust within government circles, perhaps due to a suspicion
that community radio stations have a political agenda not sympathetic
to one of the political parties in government (ZANU PF). As a result
the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) maintains its monopoly
over the airwaves. Attempts to transform the state broadcaster (if
any) have stalled. Its current board was announced by the Minister
of Information in September 2009. It is not truly representative
of society at large and members will toe the line of those who appointed
The same goes
for Zimpapers, the company which publishes newspapers such as The
Herald, and which is majority-owned by government. The current board
was appointed in September 2009 by the same minister, again very
much to the dismay of the MDC who complained that they had not been
Efforts to reform
legislation related to the media have also largely failed. The Criminal
Law (Codification and Reform) Act 2004 makes it an offence to
"insult" the President - dozens of people have been
charged under this provision The Access to Information and Privacy
Bill (AIPPA) which requires journalists to register remains in place.
The same law regulates access to information held by public bodies
and allows heads of government departments to handle requests for
information at their own discretion and refuse access to documents
if a release would not be in the "public interest".
existing legislation and uncertainty about the future are the causes
why freedom of expression is certainly not being practised without
fear in Zimbabwe. Old draconian pieces of legislation have been
used to arrest citizens and journalists for the flimsiest of reasons.
To a certain extent these actions have subdued Zimbabweans and they
tend to act with caution.
take the risk of writing stories that they realise might upset the
powers that be. They know that they are treading on dangerous ground
if they write about the president, the police, the army, cabinet
meetings and certain individuals in positions of power.
to freedom of expression increase in severity prior to elections
when the polarisation of Zimbabwean society becomes very visible.
People aligned to a certain party or civic society organisation
will refuse to show any public display of their preferred choice
in an area regarded as the stronghold of the opposing party. Intimidation,
threats and assaults increase in volume and the majority of people
live in fear.
On the other
hand, there are a plethora of political parties and civil society
organisations working in the country, private newspapers carrying
articles critical of the government are sold on the streets - all
indications that there are windows of opportunity for freedom of
The media are
not always using these windows professionally. While some media
houses are stable and try hard to ensure information is confirmed,
facts are checked and figures are accurate, there are other sections
of the media where there is no such thoroughness and no accuracy
the years has blurred the lines for journalists, many of whom are
reporting from a biased perspective because they feel "they
are still in the struggle". Journalists attending political
events will write from a ZANU PF or MDC perspective depending on
who they write for and the accurate story will be somewhere in between
the two versions.
and unethical behaviour can be attributed to a number of things:
laziness, inadequate training, poor salaries, corruption, shortage
of skilled staff in the newsrooms - all of these are putting
the experienced staff under constant pressure.
All in all,
Zimbabwe is on a path of uncertainty. There is frustration in view
of the snail's pace at which changes are being effected and
the constant set-backs. But there is also a sense of hope that things
are improving - slowly but, so people hope, steadily.
Please credit www.kubatana.net if you make use of material from this website.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.