HARARE - Opposition leader and rehabilitated lawyer Lovemore Madhuku last week spewed reckless humour during a media practitioners’ gathering in Harare attacking the personalities of First Lady Grace Mugabe, superstar musician Oliver Mtukudzi and Transport minister, Obert Mpofu.
Madhuku tore into the three characters although not mentioning two of them — Grace and Mtukudzi — specifically by name.
The lawyer urged the media not to spend millions of dollars checking the truth if they are reporting on public figures because those falsehoods can be for the public benefit.
He said a story alleging that Mpofu asked for a $10 million bribe could easily be published as a headline story on the basis that it was done in best media practise; I do not about the law.
But he cannot be found to be suing.
“His is a public figure. His wealth is difficult to explain, that man called Obert Mpofu. He is said to own half of Bulawayo, whether that is true or false. He comes from Matabeleland North.
“He went to school recently and was given a degree by ZOU, so where did he get this money from. If you have problems like that and then some rumour goes out that this man is making it out of bribes, best practise allows the media…and this can be published.”
He added that when anyone is a public figure the media should not waste time at all checking. “Anything about them is fine.”
Madhuku said there were different types of public figures including the so called celebrities.
“The reason why they become celebrities is irrelevant. Like there is some gentleman who acquired prominence for getting a degree from someone who did not exist.
“An institution just woke up and said we are awarding degrees, come.”
And Madhuku was not done yet alleging that those who were to be awarded the degrees ran around borrowing gowns for the awards ceremony.
“They were told that the graduation gowns for the doctorate had to have these round things and so they went around looking for all those things.
All those people involved in that are now public figures — that is if you were in America.
“You can be a public figure for a few minutes, it is allowed!”
While urging journalists to publish information which they would have failed to verify but was of public interest Madhuku reminded the gathering that, at a point in time, some local journalists were arrested and tortured for reporting that the President had married.
“There was one time when journalists were punished in this country for reporting that the President had married.
“And the person the President was said to have married now wants to be President of Zimbabwe.
“But at the time she was married; one paper published that marriage and turned out to be false. But what was clear was that this person was going to be married at some point, but the story was that she had been married.
He added that the journalists were punished for not being able to differentiate between truths and false.
“Some of them are late now.”
Madhuku said it was permissible for the media to publish lies about public figures as long as it was in the public’s interest.
“You can say a falsehood and say it is for the public benefit. The media may be allowed to lie as long as it is in the public interest.
“Lies would be allowed as long as they are for the benefit of the public.”
Madhuku, however, said as for those classified as “private individuals”, the law is uncompromising and clear that journalists should not publish falsehoods on a private person.
“What purpose does it serve to spread a falsehood about a nobody? He has nothing, why write a false story about them, it serves no purpose. I urge the media not publish if it is a private figure, the story should just die.”