By Daniel Chigundu
Opposition parties have been urged to hugely invest in social media as they will not get access on state owned newspapers, radio and television stations towards the 2018 general elections.
State media which has a wider coverage nationally is generally a no go area for opposition parties during the election period, despite the constitution encouraging equal access to all parties.
Currently all radio stations and televisions are owned by government or by government related people or organisations and efforts by independent people to get licences have been frustrated.
Speaking recently MDC-T Information and Publicity Secretary Obert Gutu said there is the likelihood that Zanu PF will reject the electoral reforms and there is need to plan for that worst case-scenario.
“We appreciate the sterling work that the opposition political parties under the NERA platform are doing in fighting for the adoption of electoral reforms. Nevertheless, we should also budget for the worst case scenario. This is a scenario whereby the Zanu PF regime will not give in to any meaningful and strategic reforms (which is, actually, the mostly likely scenario).
“Going forward, we notice that the regime is actually digging in and the manner in which the Zanu PF controlled state media, both print and electronic, is being abused to push the agenda of the regime (or at the very least, a certain faction within the bankrupt and faction – infested regime) is most telling. We should budget for a situation in which the paranoid and collapsing Zanu PF regime will maintain its vice – like grip on the State – controlled media; particularly the electronic media, between now and the holding of election 2018.
“This is where the use of social media becomes paramount. Yes, social media can be effectively used to penetrate all those areas (particularly rural areas),where the Zanu PF regime has virtually ring – fenced villagers and made it almost impossible for opposition political parties to conduct any meaningful public meetings and rallies. Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram etc, are the new weapons of mass communication in Zimbabwe,” he said.
Social media use has been on an increase in the country thanks to mobile penetration rate assumed to be around 94 percent and internet penetration rate of about 50 percent.
Gutu added that opposition parties have to think outside the box and ensure that their members and officials have been capacitated to use various social media platforms.
The MDC spokesperson said failure to invest in social media will deal opposition parties a huge blow in 2018 as they will certainly not get the much needed access public media.
“As opposition political parties, we should deliberately invest in the vigorous and persistent use of these various social media tools. Our cadres and officials have to be adequately capacitated to fight this new form of media war. Nothing short of this will work out in our favour.
“We are most likely not going to have equal and unfettered access to ZBC TV and ZBC radio stations between now and 2018.Thus, we have to quickly and swiftly think and accordingly, plan outside the box.
“It’s impossible for the crumbling and paranoid Zanu PF regime to win election 2018 as long as the election is free and fair. And the regime strategists are acutely aware of this fact,” Gutu said.
Government is currently working on introducing a Cyber Crime and Computer Crime Bill which among other things seeks to regulate how people use the social media in the country.
People’s Democratic Party president Tendai Biti has promised to challenge the Bill, arguing that it’s unconstitutional and is only applicable for countries that have terrorists in the form of Boko Haram and Al Shabab.
The Bill is expected before Parliament in 2017 as was announced by President Robert Mugabe during the official opening of the fourth session of the eighth Parliament of Zimbabwe.
Although ICT Minister Supa Mandiwanzira has said the Cyber Crime & Computer Crimes Bill is solely for protecting internet users, civic societies are insisting that the opposite is true.
By Daniel Chigundu