Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Zimbabwe govt threatens media organizations

Zimbabwe’s Minister of Media, Information and Publicity, Webster Shamu, recently made threats to the effect that the government will revoke the operating licences of media organisations that overstep, an indication of how desperate President Robert Mugabe’s government is to cling to that power that it won in 1980 when the country removed the white minority colonial
regime of Ian Smith.

Shamu, a former freedom fighter who is also the national political
commissar for Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party, warned that the government
would “invoke necessary legal instruments to revoke the operating
licences of media organisations that unjustifiably vilify the country”.
He said the state had issued licences to several print media houses
because “we have nothing to hide”.

But is this true? Many journalists think differently.
One scribe who works for the state broadcaster confided in this
writer that they are operating as if they work for Mugabe’s Zanu PF
party.

“We are not allowed to publish anything negative about Mugabe and his
party. You either do as you are told or you lose your job,” said the
reporter, who said he is hoping that one day he will move out to join a
privately-owned media house.

Shamu was particularly irked by media houses and private radio
stations which he said “intensified their vitriolic attacks and the
use of hate language on the person of the President and his party,
Zanu PF, in a well calculated move aimed at influencing the results of
the forthcoming elections”.

The Zimbabwean government has not allowed any other player to operate
a broadcasting station, leaving the state broadcaster, ZBC-TV with a
monopoly in a critical sector.

Inevitably, the broadcaster heaps praise on Mugabe and his party and has become a propaganda arm that sees no evil, hears no evil and publishes no evil relating to Mugabe whom it refers to as “His Excellency the Head of State, Commander in Chief of the Defence Forces, Zimbabwe University Chancellor, Patron of War Veterans, Zanu PF President and First Secretary, Zimbabwe’s Hon. Comrade President Robert Gabriel Mugabe”.

This is almost the same as what the late Malawian President, Hastings
Kamuzu Banda, was referred to during his time.

Banda, who ruled Malawi with an iron fist for three decades before
being toppled by Bakili Muluzi in the country’s first democratic elections in 1994, was one of Africa’s autocratic and repressive leaders.

Many people see similarities between Banda’s rule and that of former
Ugandan military ruler, Idi Amin and Mugabe.

Control of the media is one of the tools used in Africa to ensure
that people receive information that portrays the leadership in good
light.

The media is thus abused to create and nurture a personality cult
around the head of state as happened in Germany during the days of
Hitler and in North Korea under the rule of the Great Leader Kim Il
Sung.

Mugabe surprised everyone when he hired his former critic, Jonathan
Moyo to head the Information Ministry in 2000 and since then, the
media has been under siege in Zimbabwe.

Dozens of journalists have been arrested, detained, tortured and
harassed since Moyo drafted the much reviled Access to
Information and Protection of Privacy Act that was endorsed by Mugabe
in March 2000.

At least four media houses were forced to shut down by AIPPA, namely
the Daily News and its sister paper Daily News on Sunday in September
2003,The Tribune in June 2004 and the Weekly Times in February
2005.

In May 2010, a light wind of change blew across Zimbabwe when the
newly established Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) issued licences to
a number of print media houses.

These were The Daily News, The Mail (a daily that has since stopped
publishing) NewsDay, published by Alpha Media, Daily Gazette,
published by Modus Media and The Worker, the trade union paper that
became a weekly after operating as a monthly prior to that date.
But The Daily Gazette has not yet been relaunched.

The state, through the public funded Zimbabwe Newspapers, runs six
newspapers. Two of them, The Herald and the Chronicle are dailies while
the remainder, Sunday News, Sunday Mail, The Manica Post and Kwayedza
are weeklies.

All these appear to be mouth pieces of Mugabe and the editors are
appointed by the state. It would be news if anyone of them dared
criticise the government, even in a veiled manner.

Most progressive journalists and members of the civil society feel
that the government must overhaul AIPPA and allow other players to set
up broadcasting stations.

According to the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), all
broadcasting in Zimbabwe “must be independently- regulated and free
from undue state and political interference through the Independent
Regulatory Authority appointed through a transparent and public
process as well as with the endorsement of Parliament”.

Right now, the Broadcasting Services Act 2001 is biased in favour of
the government as it is only the state that is given extensive, if not
inordinate, control over any future private broadcaster, should
operating licences be issued at all.

The civil society has been gunning for private radio station licences
and the government appears unwilling to issue any.

That is why many Zimbabweans are forced to tune in to Zimbabwean
stations that operate from outside.

These are Studio Seven from Washington, Voice of the People based in Cape Town and SWRadioAfrica in London.

Mugabe has labelled these as pirate radio stations but they have a
lot of listeners as they carry stories that are not touched by the
state run ZBC- TV which is headed by a former Zanla freedom fighter,
Happison Muchechetere.

Mugabe has also invoked other pieces of legislation against the media.
These include the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), inherited
from the Ian Smith colonial administration.

This law imposes a number of stringent restrictions on the media and
bars people from demonstrations and holding public gatherings.

The other such laws are the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform)
Act and General Laws Amendment Act which further tighten existing
media laws.

They were passed in June 2005 and February 2006 respectively.
Thus, journalists in Zimbabwe operate under fear because someone is
always watching them.

Journalists can be jailed for up to 20 years if found in contravention
of some sections of these harsh media laws.

Harassment, intimidation and arrests, as one senior scribe said at one
workshop, “have become our daily food in Zimbabwe”.

And as the election fever grips the nation, the threat against the
media by Minister Shamu clearly shows that the Mugabe regime will not
brook any criticism of any sort from any quarter.

It is not certain when the next elections will be held, but definitely
some time next year when the country’s new constitution has been
drafted, a referendum on it held and a new voters roll drawn up.

In the past, the MDC, led by former labour leader Morgan Tsvangirai has
justifiably cried foul over the skewed reportage by the state
broadcaster that gave it little or no coverage at all.
That scenario might be repeated in the next elections.

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