Nothing to celebrate on World Press Freedom Day

May 4, 2012 at 11:39 am Leave a comment

By Lance Guma

As Zimbabwe commemorates World Press Freedom Day, SW Radio Africa chronicles
the trail of broken promises made under the 3 year old coalition government
and, in particular, ZANU PF’s stubborn reluctance to free the airwaves.

The power sharing deal that came about after Mugabe lost elections in March
2008 promised far reaching media reforms. Zimbabweans hoped to see
independent radio and television stations, in addition to the newspapers
that were licensed. But ZANU PF made it obvious they will continue
monopolising the broadcasting sector.

After licensing a string of independent newspapers, including the previously
banned Daily News, many were fooled into thinking the same would happen with
broadcasting. But newspapers have a limited circulation due to their cost
while, radio and television reach a wider audience and pose a threat to ZANU
PF’s propaganda.

Despite statements by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai that the broadcasting
authority was going to be reconstituted it became clear the ZANU PF
Information Minister Webster Shamu was taking different instructions from
Mugabe.

Last year the same illegally constituted body called for commercial radio
licence applications. Packed with ZANU PF cronies the broadcasting authority
awarded the two licences to the ZANU PF controlled Zimpapers Talk Radio and
AB Communications, owned by the ZANU PF apologist,  journalist Supa
Mandiwanzira.

Making a further mockery of the whole affair was the fact that both stations
were already buying equipment and recruiting staff before the winning bids
were made public.

Nothing highlights the close link between Mandiwanzira and ZANU PF more than
reports that ZANU PF wanted him to stand as their parliamentary candidate in
Nyanga. The awarding of the radio licence might have changed this position
but Mandiwanzira remains a blue-eyed boy of the regime and is trusted to tow
the line.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) this week said: “The
controversy surrounding the licensing authority, the licensing process and
the licensees, engender doubts on whether the development would enhance
access to alternative view points for the majority of Zimbabweans who rely
on radio for information.”

MISA added: “While there has been a decline in the number of arrests and
harassment of journalists following the inauguration of the coalition
government, there is no guarantee that the situation will continue as long
as the repressive laws remain in place and could be used as and when those
in office are subjected to robust media scrutiny.”

Last Saturday riot police disrupted a road show organized by a local
community radio initiative, Radio Dialogue. The police strangely claimed
there was a ‘lack of space’ and the road show had to end. This is despite
Radio Dialogue holding the road show for the past 6 years without any
hindrance.

MISA noted that since November 2011, six cases of media violations were
reported. In four of the six cases journalists were charged under criminal
law, including three who were charged with criminal defamation.

Targeted by the regime over stories they wrote were Standard journalists
Nqaba Matshazi, editor Nevanji Madanhire, Daily News editor Stanley Gama and
journalist Xolisani Ncube. “Criminal defamation has become the weapon of
choice against media freedom and freedom of expression,” MISA said.

US based NGO Freedom House has meanwhile ranked Zimbabwe 172 out of 197
countries in terms of Press freedom. Last year Zimbabwe was ranked 173
alongside Gambia, Congo and Russia. Reporters Without Borders also released
a statement putting Mugabe among the predators of freedom of information.

Emmanuel Ndlovu from the Bulawayo Progressive Residents’ Association said:
“The citizens and residents of Zimbabwe continue to bear the brunt of a
highly restrictive media landscape that ostracises, harasses and prosecutes
journalists for criticising politicians, the government and other powerful
groups.”

In another example of the repressive environment Robin Hammond, a New
Zealand journalist, was arrested in Beitbridge on the 16th April for
allegedly breaching media regulations.

According to his sister he is still locked up there: “We’ve heard from his
lawyer that he is expected to be moved to Harare at some stage and the
intention is to deport him from there. Apart from that we have heard
nothing,” his sister told journalists.  Hammond was said to be working on a
story on irregular migration between Zimbabwe and South Africa.

In his World Press Freedom Day statement Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai
said: “We marked Workers’ day in a country with no workers to speak of and
today I am here with you to “celebrate” Press Freedom day when we all know
that press freedom is a scarce commodity in this country.”

Tsvangirai said the power sharing deal made it clear “that Zimbabwe is
“desirous of ensuring the opening up of the airwaves and ensuring the
operation of as many media houses as possible. The GPA is clear on the role
of the public media and how it should behave in order to reflect the new
dispensation of inclusivity.”

“The responsible Ministry has chosen not to make the pubic media reflect the
new inclusive dispensation and to provide a platform for divergent views in
line with the dictates of the GPA. We have a Ministry that spends more time
thinking about how it should curtail information rather than how it should
disseminate it!”

The MDC-T leader said: “The regional trend should leave us embarrassed as a
country. The DRC has 381 radio stations and 93 television stations. (41
radio stations and 51 television stations in Kinshasa alone!). South Africa
has about 1, 000 radio and television stations combined.”

Tsvangirai warned journalists peddling hate speech, saying they “shall be
personally liable on the day of reckoning. The Rwandan example shows that
you will be alone, without any institutional support, when history asks you
to account for your role in standing between the people and their
inalienable rights and freedoms.”

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Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

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