Judgment reserved in State media ‘biased reporting’ case

By Tatenda Chitagu

Masvingo High Court judge Justice Joseph Mafusire has reserved judgment in a case where legal and parliamentary watchdog Veritas Zimbabwe is suing the State media for biased reporting in favour of the ruling Zanu PF party.

Veritas Zimbabwe took the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), Zimbabwe Newspapers (Zimpapers), the Zimbabwe Media Commission, Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) to court to compel them to subscribe to section 61 of the Constitution ahead of the July 30, 2018 harmonised elections.

Justice Mafusire agreed to hear the case on merits despite attempts by the respondents to have the matter dismissed on technical grounds.

ZBC had argued that the case had been overtaken by events since the July 30, 2018 elections had come and gone and that there were “material disputes of fact” in relation to assertions made by Veritas in the application.

The national broadcaster also wanted the application to be thrown away on the grounds that the applicant had not given a notice to file supplementary heads of argument.
Zimpapers did not oppose the application.

Veritas, represented by lawyer Doug Coltart, told the court that the primary purpose of filing the supplementary heads was to slightly alter the draft order sought in light of the changed circumstances.

He said Zimbabwe would always conduct elections and the respondents should act in accordance with the Constitution.

“A draft order is not a document made under oath and the court can exercise its discretion and the order can always be amended. The supplementary draft order is there to assist the court,” Coltart argued.

On the ground that the case had been overtaken by events, Coltart said there was a misconception that impartiality in the State media only exists during the election period.

“These obligations are always ever-present. The relief being sought does not make any reference to the elections. An election is a process and not an event. There are by-elections going on throughout the electoral cycle. Whatever the ruling this honourable court hands down, it will certainly have a bearing on future elections,” Coltart
argued.

In terms of section 61(4) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, State-owned media houses have a special constitutional obligation to be impartial, equitable, and unbiased.

“The case is premised on section 61 of the Constitution, which requires State media to be impartial, independent and provide fair opportunity for dissenting views. All arguments are closed and we are now just waiting for the judge to pass the judgment,” Coltart told journalists outside the Masvingo High Court.

BAZ, meanwhile, argued that the need for fair coverage does not fall under its purview.

After hearing arguments from all the parties, Justice Mafusire reserved judgment.

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