It is important to underline from the beginning that along with the commercial networks, independent public broadcasting systems are an essential part of the overall structure of broadcasting. Kasoma (1992: 9) argues that an independent and critical press promotes democratic governance because it acts as a safety valve of the steam boiler of the body politic. He further asserts that in a situation where people cannot speak freely because government agents are watching them, as happened in many African countries and is still happening in some, emotions start building up until they cannot be held back any longer.
In the end, the people vent their anger and frustration through violent means such as riots. Violence is undemocratic because democracy is about the exchange of ideas and not about exchanging blows. 1. 2 Statement of the Problem A partisan media is often capable of starting but not stopping a conflict. Where there is war, there is no democracy. The African experience has been that of a partisan, usually government media, taking a side in conflicts resulting in a situation where one side is riled to a point of starting a fight.
Evidence coming from Rwanda, for example, strongly indicates that the media of that country played a big part in fanning the genocide. It is important to say that this development is to a greater extent, not consistent with the altruistic values of a PSB system. Although there is no full-scale war in Zimbabwe we need to take note of the current war of words between the government and the opposition. In this war the independent media rallies behind the opposition while the public media amplifies the voice and ideas of the ruling party and government.
From a public service broadcasting point of view this means ZBC’s institutional and organisational policy may shift from that of altruism to that of the ruling party or government mouthpiece. As a result mainstream political players may become a threat to both editorial independence and institutional autonomy of ZTV and all this can influence news programming. Through their political clout politicians may turn what ought to be a PSB station into a conduit for indoctrinating the electorate and political advertising.
If no sound regulatory policies are designed to protect the ZBC mandate of informing, educating and entertaining the public, these noble goals may be hijacked by political interests so that television can be used for delivering political audiences to political advertisers. Yet all these remain hypothetical. Realistic political news is now a preserve of the elite. These elite use their unlimited resources to access foreign broadcast service stations which provide them with more truthful reporting about the news and events in the country than does the ZBC.
Francis Kasoma cited in Media, Culture and Society (1994: 550-1) has predicted that the continued presence of government controlled main media of public communication will make Africa revert back to dictatorship since there will be little public means of checking bad governance and misuse of power. Of interest therefore to this research are the contradictions between the programming ideals of public broadcasting and political meddling: Is the editorial output of ZBC-TV news hour inclined to portray the ruling party and government favourably at the expense of any opposing political views or voices?
1. 3 Purpose of the Study This dissertation aims to achieve the following goals in the area under study: ; To gather information which will foster theoretical debate on the political content of news in Zimbabwe, which will be backed by empirical evidence. By providing an in depth analysis of ZTV news hour, the researcher hopes to add documented evidence and material that may be helpful in future debates as well as establish whether a public broadcaster such as ZBC can truly play its democratic role of objectively informing, educating and creating political awareness amongst citizens.
; To observe how the packaging of news affects the total outcome or news value of ZBC-TV news hour and how it also affects public confidence in the broadcaster. ; To come up with a fair balance of quantitative and qualitative information that will enrich the Zimbabwean experience in the studied area of public service television broadcasting ; To highlight problems related to news programming at ZTV station and also suggest possible solutions in countering these problems.
; To contribute a new dimension to the already existing material. Although research has been carried out along these lines, it tends to be rather one-dimensional critiques of public service broadcasting which have condemned it for its elitism and ideological bias. This is because the researcher believes in the concern to argue for a more positive reassessment of the achievements and values of public service broadcasting than has been generally accorded. 1. 4 Research Questions
Does the ZBC TV news hour provide an arena in which the politics of difference can be negotiated and a provisional notion of the common good arrived at? Does the ZBC TV news hour play its democratic role of educating and making people aware of political reality in the country? Can a balance of presentation and value of the news be achieved? Does the biased presentation of alternative political views affect news value? Does the lack of neutrality in ZBC-TV news hour cause the public to lack confidence in public broadcasting? 1.
5 Statement of Hypothesis Some oppositional voices are not as demonised by the ZBC as the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which has been branded pro- West minister * The ZBC-TV newshour is used as a propaganda tool rather than a public broadcaster that fosters a sense of belonging to one nation among citizens. The ZBC-TV news editorial charter poses unreasonable restriction and this compounded by the fact that it is heavily financed by government revenues and therefore acts according to the expectations of the government
The presence of monitors and government control through the Department of Information and Publicity in the Office of the President and Cabinet ensures that the news service is able to provide little except what is officially sanctioned. There is a tragic loss of political reality portrayed by ZBC-TV news hour, with alternative political voices almost nonexistent and this has invariably turned away most viewers from the public broadcaster. 1. 6 Significance of the Study.
While the main reason for undertaking this type of study is to partially fulfill the requirements of the degree studies in Media and Society, it is also meant to augment whatever efforts have been undertaken before to investigate the political neutrality of Public Service Broadcasting. This dissertation will also contribute new knowledge to academia because no research has previously been done on ZBC’s news hour as a democratic platform of participation.
Although writers such as, Zaffiro (1984), Anderson (1995), Gumbo (1996), Mano (1997) and Khumalo (1997), have made studies on ZTV none of these specifically dealt with the question of how political meddling relates to main television news programming at ZBC. In essence although this dissertation does not break virgin ground in studying television, it nonetheless contributes on how the noble ideals of public service broadcasting can be frustrated by political actors in a bid to maintain political advantage over their competitors.
This study may be of use to the mainstream political actors who might want to use its findings to clean up their public image and perhaps through enabling legislation ensure that they loosen their grip on the national broadcaster so that it fully covers political proceedings freely and fairly without any hindrances. Government may realise the need to minimize its interference on the broadcaster to allow ZBC to initiate new incentives that can woo advertisers rather than for it to depend on government subventions.
The political opposition may use the results of the same study to show that they are being suppressed or gagged to express their political opinion through ZBC-TV news. The opposition may realise the need to argue in parliament for the deregulation of the airwaves and lobby for media reforms in terms of legislation by way of fighting such hindrances as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA). The citizens of Zimbabwe or ZBC-TV news publics will be informed that it is not all that is beamed as news, which is the gospel truth.
They will appreciate that a critical independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy and be in a better position to make educated choices between ZBC-TV news and its serious foreign rival stations such as SA Radio, Voice of America, Satellite Channels and the Internet. As for men and women who work for the ZBC as an institution, it is hoped that this research will make them realise the need for objective reporting and above all remember that they are accountable to the public. It is envisaged that they will also realise the need to take seriously their responsibilities for accuracy, fairness and decency.
1. 7 Assumptions The researcher assumes that there is serious government interference at ZBC, through the responsible Ministry and it is this interference that detects that oppositional voices be suppressed or gagged to express their political opinion through ZBC-TV news. The main news bulletin is manipulated to the selfish advantage of the government. This study also assumes that prior to the emergence of serious political opposition, while the ruling party, ZANU PF enjoyed absolute monopoly, the ZBC made an effort to ensure politically realistic news content.
It also follows that other political parties such as ZANU Ndonga, NAGG etc do enjoy a positive or fair coverage than the MDC – whenever the public broadcaster covers them. The researcher also assumes that the poor handling of news at ZBC is slowly killing the broadcaster. The political content of ZBC-TV news by nature lacks concern for the provision of an arena where politics of difference can be negotiated and therefore annoys some of ZBC’s publics who switch off their television sets or routinely switch to DSTV or the VCR.
It is also assumed that those who are riled to such a point do not feel compelled to pay their licence fees. This also compromises the nation building potential of the news bulletin. This research also assumes that while press freedom has been proclaimed in Zimbabwe, it has not been taken up to advantage by media practitioners who in fear of a high handed ruling elite engage in overzealous self censorship. This self-censorship curtails the free flow of ideas that is a conditio sine qua non for democracy.
This study also assumes that ZBC needs to enjoy a certain measure of freedom in collecting and disseminating news so that democracy can be revised in Zimbabwe. Without this freedom, parliament and the judiciary as democratic institutions are by and large helpless. 1. 8 Definition of Terms o Newshour: The main television news bulletin on ZTV scheduled at 2000 hours everyday except on weekends when it assumes a different name and news casting team.
o Public Service Broadcaster: A medium that provides potential space for free expression and open debate, provided by a continually threatened distance from private capital and government influence. Such a medium should address audiences as citizens, not as consumers. o Political Actors: In this instance it will be taken to refer to political organisations. A mainstream political actor is taken to mean a member of the ruling party and government and opposition political actors to refer to all forms of opposition in the country.
Political actors are taken here to exclude the treatment of media as citizens or active political participants. They are regarded as engaged in disinterested reportage in pursuance of the public good. o Editorial Charter: Broad guidelines that govern the performance of media organisations. o Political Matter: To be political matter, the matter broadcast must, when viewed objectively, be capable of being properly characterized as participation in the political process or an attempt to influence or comment upon that process, the administration of government or those who participate in these activities.
o News Monitors: Those in the news production line who spike stories that may be damaging to the status quo. o News Value: News that is viewed as worth broadcasting in line with the editorial charter. o Political Reality: Absolute facts relating to political matter as it stands on the ground o Self-Censorship: A situation whereby a reporter withholds certain information in fear of victimisation, even if the information may be in the public interest. o Agenda Setting: The process of deliberately giving prominence and salience to certain issues and not others to influence public opinion.
1. 9 Scope of the Study The concept of public service model is generally asserted to be the bedrock of broadcasting policies throughout the world and has its firm foundation in the evolution of broadcasting in England. The idea of public service broadcasting is coined around the stipulations of the public service model and is rooted in the enlightenment notion of the public and of a public space in which social and political life democratically unfolds.
This dissertation approaches the question of participatory democracy from a broader perspective that includes establishing whether ZBC-TV news hour is still in the Reithian tradition, sustaining an informed electorate, is still apolitical, neutral to political views and an institution that is still positioned to be a medium offering public access to information. The study will limit itself to the voices that deal with political matter on ZBC news hour. Political interference by the ongoing government will also be treated where it appears explicitly or implicitly. This study will not as a matter of focus dwell on all principles of public.