Promised media reforms a pie in the sky

August 31, 2011 at 8:41 am Leave a comment

By Lance Guma

A lot was expected when the coalition government took charge two years ago
but as Zimbabwe inches towards another uncertain election, evidence is
growing that the much promised media reforms will remain a pie in the sky.
This week alone provided ample evidence of ongoing harassment and backward
steps being taken.

According to an alert from the Media Institute for Southern Africa
(MISA-Zimbabwe chapter) the editor of the weekly Zimbabwe Independent
newspaper Constantine Chimakure, and senior political reporter Wongai
Zhangazha, spent 4 hours being questioned by police from the Law and Order
Section on Tuesday.

The police harassment stemmed from a July story published by the paper
titled “Ministers rejected Kasukuwere plan”. In the story ministers from the
two MDC formations are said to have resisted attempts by Youth Development,
Indigenisation and Empowerment Minister Saviour Kasukuwere to re-introduce
the controversial youth militia training.

Police are said to have recorded statements from both Chimakure and
Zhangazha, while trying to intimidate the journalists into revealing their
sources. The Mugabe regime is claiming the story was based on discussions in
cabinet and that it is an offence under the Official Secrets Act to disclose
those details. Chimakure has since stated that the story did not originate
from Cabinet.

Meanwhile the Chairman of the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC), Godfrey
Majonga, has warned that foreign newspapers circulating in the country risk
being banned if they do not register under the draconian Access to
Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA). “We will use the police
to confiscate all copies until the newspapers abide by what we want,”
Majonga said on Friday.

“They are supposed to remit 0.01 percent of their earnings to ZMC if they
are operating in Zimbabwe. They are printed outside the country, don’t
import newsprint or create employment,” he argued.
But MISA said: “The threat will have a negative impact on the citizens’
right to access diverse information as it will push the cover prices of
foreign newspapers at a time when Zimbabweans are struggling to make ends
meet.” The media pressure group said newspapers will become a luxury that
only the elite will have access to.

In July it was reported the principals from all three parties in the
coalition had agreed to appoint new boards for the Broadcasting Authority of
Zimbabwe, ZBC and the Mass Media Trust, in order for there to be true and
inclusive media reforms. But ZANU PF has continued to stall on this, amid
clear signs they are not interested in freeing up the airwaves or loosening
their control of state owned newspapers.
In May the broadcasting authority board called for applications for two
commercial radio licences. By the end of June deadline a reported 15
entities had put in applications. But since then nothing has been heard.

In July the same body told a Parliamentary portfolio committee that even
though they had called for radio licence applications it could take up to 18
months to grant them – a clear indication ZANU PF wants to ensure there will
be no independent radio until after the elections.

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