By Daniel Chigundu
Social media platforms operating in Zimbabwe have been shut out from covering the historic Nelson Chamisa election petition in the Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe tomorrow (Wednesday 22 August).
Chamisa who was fronting the MDC Alliance Presidential bid claims to have won the election with about 56% percent of the votes and is also accusing the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) of doctoring figures to advantage Emmerson Mnangagwa who was fronting Zanu PF.
Several social media platforms have been covering the election campaigns and had become the preferred source of electoral information in the country owing to their perceived fairness.
While it is common knowledge that Zimbabwean courts are not camera friendly, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) had applied to have social media platforms be given permission to live stream the event since it has a national interest and they are followed by more people compared to mainstream media.
However, the Constitutional Court rejected the application on the basis that the state broadcaster Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation has the capacity to broadcast the event and that the courtroom was too small to accommodate a lot of people.
The Judiciary Services Commission weighed in by suggesting that the other media will be accommodated in an overflow tent that has been pitched in the court’s car park with a capacity to carry about 500 people.
However, in an act of pure sabotage the Zimbabwe Republic Police circulated a memo advising that only people who have been accredited will gain access into the tent but they are not allowed to bring electronic gadgets along.
“The Zimbabwe Republic Police wishes to inform the nation that people who will be attending the Constitutional Court on 22-23 August 2018, will not be allowed to carry electronic gadgets like cell phones, laptops, cameras or other recording devices. To avoid unnecessary delays please leave these items elsewhere.
“Only accredited individuals will be allowed access to the Constitutional Court premises. We kindly request for cooperation with law enforcement agents in that regard,” said senior assistant commissioner Charity Charamba who is the police spokesperson.
Cameras, cell phones and other electronic gadgets are the exact tools that various social media platforms use in doing their work.
ZBC is demanding US$13 000 to anyone who would like the live signal feed a figure which almost all the social media platforms cannot afford to pay.
MISA, however, says it disagrees with the ConCourt judgement adding that it entrenches ZBC monopoly in the Zimbabwean broadcasting landscape.
“MISA Zimbabwe respectfully disagrees with the court’s ruling for three reasons. Firstly, this afternoon’s decision undermines efforts to establish media plurality in Zimbabwe by breaking ZBC’s monopoly in the Zimbabwean broadcasting landscape.
“Secondly, only a few local media houses with interest in broadcasting tomorrow’s hearing will be able to afford ZBC’s exorbitant access fees. Lastly, it is an established fact that social media now has a wider reach in Zimbabwe than traditional broadcasting methods,”