Zimbabwe Media Sustainability Index (MSI)
About the MSI
IREX designed the MSI to measure the strength and viability of any country's media sector. The MSI considers all the factors that contribute to a media system—the quality of journalism, effectiveness of management, the legal environment supporting freedom of the press, and more—to arrive at scores on a scale ranging between 0 and 4. These scores represent the strength of the media sector components and can be analyzed over time to chart progress (or regression) within a country. Additionally, countries or regions may be compared to one another. IREX currently conducts the MSI in 80 countries, and began studying Africa in 2006.
MSI Zimbabwe - 2010 Introduction
Overall Country Score: 1.29
The 2010 panel discussion was held in the context of continued bickering and stalemate within an increasingly dysfunctional coalition government, deflating hopes that the coalition, formed in 2009, might bring positive change. While the Global Political Agreement (GPA) mandated that the coalition government implement legislative and institutional reforms, no meaningful or tangible progress had yet been made when the panel met to discuss Zimbabwe’s media sustainability. Instead, the government launched a fresh series of steps to increase its control over the media.
Zimbabweans’ constitutional rights to free expression still depend upon and are impeded by the whims of a government empowered by a plethora of repressive media laws that hinder free access to information. Such excessive and bureaucratic controls over the media are unwarranted in a democratic society, noted the MSI panelists, and violate the provisions of accepted protocols on freedom of expression. The government- controlled daily newspapers remain partisan in their coverage, spewing constant criticism of civil society and the coalition partners of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), though circulation is limited to the main cities, and prices are too high for most Zimbabweans.
On a positive note, the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) at last moved to register 15 new media outlets and independent newspapers, among them four dailies, bringing to an end a seven-year monopoly of the daily print media market by the state-controlled Zimpapers.
Despite this encouraging measure, the dominant state-controlled public broadcaster continues to provide a distorted and biased news service, particularly against the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, despite the MDC’s status as an equal partner in the coalition. The country’s primary broadcast media law, the Broadcasting Services Act, is restrictive, and appointment of board members to the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ), a body responsible for regulating the airwaves, is unilateral and irregular. There has been no progress in the broadcasting sector over the past year, and no independent domestic radio and television broadcasters have been granted operating licenses. Consequently, the Zimbabwean community, particularly those living in marginalized areas, lack adequate and credible information.
At the time this MSI panel met, the coalition government partners appeared to be readying for a constitutional referendum and election. Meanwhile, reforms laid out under the GPA have not been implemented, and political and media space remains restricted in flagrant breach of African Union and SADC principles for free and fair elections.