The Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) has said it is giving fair coverage of all political parties participating in the Regional and Local Authorities elections slated for November 26 and 27. The national broadcaster says Swapo gains the lion’s share of the television news coverage because opposition parties either organise few events or fail to inform the NBC of the times and dates.
Previously the NBC has come under fire running news coverage that is biased towards the ruling Swapo Party. In the run up to last year’s national elections, IPPR research found that Swapo received 80 percent of the news coverage (in terms of minutes) on the evening television news as compared to 20 percent for opposition parties. Although no media monitoring of these elections is taking place, it would appear that the television news is covering the ruling party to a similar extent ahead of the local and regional polls while the various opposition parties feature only occasionally.
In an interview with Election Watch at the outset of the campaign NBC manager of News and Current Affairs Mushitu Mukwame said it was down to political parties to furnish the NBC with an updated comprehensive programme of dates and times of their activities and rallies to enable the broadcaster to plan for coverage.
“Criticism is always welcome and in the media you cannot satisfy everybody. The opposition will say we are favouring Swapo and Swapo will say we are favouring opposition.
“Resources remain the only critical challenge but we can’t say we can’t do this or that because we know our mandate is to inform the country about these elections.”
On the perception that the public broadcaster’s coverage of opposition political tended to focus on the negative, Mukwame defended the NBC.
“We are the eyes and ears of society. I don’t think you can shut your eyes because society depends on us because your role is to assist in national building even if you haven’t got power you start fighting amongst yourselves, when do you start working or implementing your programmes? So we will report on everything.”
In their preliminary reports to last year’s elections, International observer missions, namely the SADC Parliamentary Forum and the Pan African Parliament, noted that NBC favoured the ruling party in its coverage.
Mukwame said the problem was often that the opposition parties organised fewer events or rallies as compared to the ruling party. “If other political parties don’t have these activities what coverage do you want NBC to give them? It is not the role of the NBC to tell these parties to go and have a rally there and it is up to the political parties to tell us what activities they have.
“Some of these political parties promised us that they will tell us [about their programmes] .... we heard some of them had rallies somewhere and we called them they told us that no we are not welcome there but when these [election] observers come they will be the first ones to run there and tell them that NBC doesn’t want to give us airtime.”
Before last year’s Presidential and Parliamentary elections, the NBC scrapped the allocation of free airtime to political parties, after some opposition parties challenged the policy in court questioning the fairness of the public broadcaster in allocating the airtime.
Mukwame said the policy had been reviewed and that the national broadcaster resolved not to give free airtime to political parties, instead parties had to buy airtime at commercial rates.
He said although NBC had abandoned of the free airtime policy, the national broadcaster would continue to cover all political parties’ activities and there programmes as news. –
by Tatenda Malan,
by Tatenda Malan,Election Watch Namibia