The country is in the spotlight on how it will execute the elections, so is the media on how it will cover the polls.

Media should avoid disinformation and misinformation to preserve electoral democracy

Media has a key role to play in effective electoral democracy since it can provide reach for political parties and acts as a conveyer of key information. The natural expectation is that media should be seen as an enabler of democracy.

Electoral watchdog, The Zimbabwe Support Network (Zesn) recently held a virtual discussion on the role of media in effective electoral democracy. The discussion comprised of different stakeholders who shared their opinions on the subject.

Kubatana Trust’s Portia Kurima who was part of the virtual discussion, expressed her thoughts on the subject by pin pointing that the cyber security and data protection Bill would appear good as we are fighting cybercrime but the history of our implementers is what is worrying saying that the law can be abused.

“Media laws can be used for witch-hunting and the impeding of the enjoyment of rights.

“The criterion to be used to determine the violation of the media laws is a subjective matter – the laws are prone to wide interpretation opening room for abuse.

“During elections the media are a forum for debate: to discuss manifestoes, performance of politicians, etc.

Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ) programs manager Nigel Nyamutumbu expressed that there is need to review the regulatory framework.

“ZEC is a player and referee at the same time.

“The media is also watching over the conduct of the ZEC itself,” Nyamutumbu said.

Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations (Zacras) national coordinator Vivienne Marara expressed that community radios stations may help introduce diversity and promote voter awareness through being easily accessible and broadcasting in local languages.

“Licenses will be revoked if broadcasters do not start operating within 18 months.

“Community radio stations have been receiving help from stakeholders to start operating,” Marara said.

Media producer and presenter Robert Tapfumaneyi shared the view that television stations are run on the basis of what the audience wants and so incoming television operators will be forced to do things differently.

“Three of the recently licensed television operators are failing to raise fees.

“If they manage to operate before elections, access to the media for politicians is likely to increase,” Tapfumaneyi said during the virtual discussion.

CITE scribe Tanaka Mrewa voiced her opinions by mentioning that Digital platforms and social media offer an alternative platform for accessing information and that they are more accessible to young people, some of whom do not understand much about elections.

“Information could be packaged to target such young people.

“There is need to consider if information is going to be packaged and presented on posters, for Twitter, Facebook, Tik Tok, considering data costs that will be incurred by the audience,” Mrewa said further.

“If the media are prevented from serving that purpose, then the democratic rights of people would be violated,” Kurima added.

Zimfact editor Chris Chinaka highlighted that disinformation and misinformation have become problematic everywhere which affects decision making by the people.

Fact checking has become important for that reason.

“Public officials and politicians usually lead in disinformation and misinformation as truth becomes a casualty more during elections.

“It makes the role of the media in testing the information the more important.

“People need to be taught how to fact-check information for example, looking at the source and so on, there is need to improve quality control within the media itself; and there is need to fact check public officials and call them out as a disincentive,” Chinaka added.

There was a shared notion that there is an opportunity for digital and social media to amplify the voice of the people rather than give prominence to politicians who will be covered more by the mainstream media.

Marara added that at law, community radios are not allowed to broadcast political content in a bid to avoid partisanship.

She was of the view that if in Zimbabwe the sentiment is that they should be allowed then the law has to change.

“Deal with sustainability issues as media is battling because of limited revenue.

“Unpalatable information is being churned out to raise revenue.

“Political polarisation is also affecting the media: the media mirrors society,” Marara said further.

Nyamutumbu went on to add that there are going to be significant changes in terms of how elections are going to be held as a result of COVID-19. Media should interpret and disseminate regulations in relation to this.

Mrewa ended saying that media should package information in easily understandable formats.

“Citizen journalism and social media platforms have fuelled disinformation.

“Media should stick to ethics and professionalism,” Mrewa said.

From the virtual discussion, there was a clear highlight of how media should assume its role by ensuring that citizens make responsible, informed decisions rather than out of ignorance or misinformation.

Furthermore, information should be fact checked and accurate as some of it can cause subjectivity and political persuasion.