Zanu PF infighting threatens press freedom

HARARE - As Zimbabwe enters 2015, media practitioners have called on the government to move swiftly to align media laws to the new Constitution amid deadly succession fights in the ruling party that have put press freedom on the back burner.

Media practitioners told the Daily News on Sunday that as long as there are still power struggles within President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF, comprehensive media reforms will remain an illusion.

The year started with police storming the Harare head office of the country’s leading newspaper, the Daily News, after Mugabe’s wife, Grace late last year lied maliciously and egregiously that former Vice President Joice Mujuru owned a 10 percent stake in the paper.

Police went to the extent of obtaining a court order from Harare provincial magistrate Vakayi Douglas Chikwekwe on December 18, 2014, which authourised them to search and seize key documents pertaining to the ownership of the newspaper’s parent company, Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ).

Not only is this information easily obtainable from the Registrar of Companies and from statutory media regulation body, the Zimbabwe Media Commission, a casual perusal of the warrant of seizure that the police used suggested that they already had this information anyway, rendering their mission suspicious and somewhat pointless.

Media practitioners said they foresee instead piecemeal reforms being implemented.

“Remember Zanu PF’s media policy is largely informed by its own political insecurities,” Nhlanhla Ngwenya, Misa-Zimbabwe national director, said.

“Previously, the policies were formulated with a strong opposition in mind and now that the threats are within, the reforms will reflect the interests of the strongest faction at a given time.

“And as long as there are still these power struggles within the party, comprehensive media reforms will not come on a silver platter and will remain an illusion.”

Ngwenya said the media and all those that cherish freedom of expression should vigorously demand the promotion of this right in the new year to avoid having the issue being subordinated to selfish political fights.

“And as long as the licensing of new broadcasters continues to be done under the old, opaque and undemocratic licensing regime, there can never be public confidence in the genuineness of the licences,” he said.

He said perceptions and realities would also indicate that it is only those that are close to centres of power that will benefit, thereby expanding the media empire under direct and indirect control of the Zanu PF government.

“That would not be media diversity in the strictest sense of the word,” Ngwenya said.

“The shrinking economy will even make matters worse as we are likely to see some media houses continue to struggle if not close shop.

“That would be tragic as it will take the struggle for media diversity in the country more than a decade back, giving authorities the excuse that it is not the laws that are a problem in Zimbabwe but sustainability models of the media houses.”

The media also has to deal with maintaining its continued advocacy for democratic media law reforms which would include media self-regulation, decriminalisation of freedom of expression and recognition of the democratic importance of ICTs to the media professionalism and public accountability, said media expert Takura Zhangazha.

“The latter point also points to the importance of the media understanding of the increasing importance of the converged journalist — one that can grapple print, broadcasting, photography and the Internet in order to better serve the profession.”

Brian Mangwende, chairman of the Zimbabwe National Editors Forum (Zinef), said 2015 will see his organisation defending and promoting media freedom through all possible mediums.

“We will provide a unified voice on issues of concern to editors and provide solidarity when the rights of editors are infringed,” he said.

“We will also continue to protect editors against victimisation for carrying out their duties.”

The Zinef chairperson said they would engage legislators so as push for the aligning of media laws with the Constitution, adopted in May 2013 after a majority vote. “We will continue to monitor legislative and judicial activities and take steps to intervene and bring about changes that will be favourable to our members.”

Kumbirai Mafunda, Misa-Zimbabwe chairperson, said the major challenge for the media in Zimbabwe in 2015 will be how the government responds to implementing critical and outstanding media reforms ushered in through the new Constitution. “These are overdue in implementation,” Mafunda said.

“We need a new and proper Freedom of Information Act rather than the misnamed Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa).”

Mafunda foresees journalists this year grappling with threats in the execution of their professional duties.

“We have seen those in power and with power targeting journalists and media houses simply for doing their job and this is worrying,” he said. “We are likely to grapple with more of attacks, threats and even physical harm to journalists as happened in previous years.

“But we appeal to all stakeholders to desist from such practices of targeting or harassing journalists and media houses.”

Mafunda added that media practitioners will not rest until the full liberalisation of the broadcasting sector and the campaign for community radio stations bear fruit.

“We will still campaign for the amendment and repeal of obnoxious legislation and engage lawmakers and other critical stakeholders on such an initiative,” he said.

Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (Zuj) secretary general Foster Dongozi said from a trade union perspective, the major challenge was the stuttering economy which could cause some media organisations to collapse, threatening the welfare of journalists.

“Already, some media organisations are not paying salaries, staggering salaries and failing to remit pensions, funeral, medical aid and Zuj subscriptions fees,” Dongozi said.

He said as Zuj, they strongly support the opening up of the airwaves as it contributes to press freedom, access to information, democracy and human rights.

“Additionally, it contributes towards the creation of jobs for our members and we hope the independent players will be able to survive in our economy which is facing serious challenges,” he said.

Dongozi said there were several laws that affect the media and “we have all heard the story about aligning them with the Constitution.”

“The year 2015 should see us being action-oriented in terms of aligning the laws with the Constitution and not just yapping on and on without implementation,” he said.

 

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