'Completely remove govt controls on ZBC'

HARARE - Our News Editor Gift Phiri sits down for an exclusive interview with veteran journalist and media executive Henry Muradzikwa.

Muradzikwa has been the chief executive officer of Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings (ZBC) between October 2006 and May 2008.

Muradzikwa also served as the CEO and Editor-in-Chief of State news agency Ziana for 10 years, editor of The Sunday Mail, and deputy editor of The Herald, among others.

He is also a commissioner at the Zimbabwe Media Commission and held several senior positions at a number of media houses.

Q: Do you get a sense that there is no political will from government to allow opposition voices on the ZBC?

A: It seems to me the President (Emmerson Mnangagwa), as he promised the nation in hitting the ground running, he has been running true to address the... economic issues. Others around him must deal with these things. This is what I feel; others should deal with these things.

Q: The ZBC Board is answerable to the executive arm of government. Doesn’t this stand in the way of the desired transformation of the ZBC into a truly public public broadcaster?

A: I would like to see a relaxation if not complete removal of government controls on the ZBC.

We must always remember that being answerable to government does not automatically mean hapless subservience to government.

Once the democratic imperative is ensconced in government psychology, liberal parameters can be set for the ZBC to operate freely, led by a management granted the necessary security of advance.

A look at the history of Britain and its BBC is useful. You see, there has to be set sufficient latitude for news reporters and their editors to practice their profession governed by its ethics.

Q: I understand you had quite a cordial relationship with former president Robert Mugabe.

A: No, for me we had a history of conflict.

Q: You had a history of conflict?!

A: With him, yes. Remember I was publicly removed from the editorship of the Sunday Mail by Mugabe personally allegedly because we had published a story about Zimbabwean students suffering deprivation in Cuba.

Government had not sent money for a lengthy period. At the same time they were being unjustifiably stigmatised as Aids-infected.

Eventually, we were vindicated when the veracity of our story was confirmed. I had stood by my reporters and publicly refused to apologise when asked to do so.

Q: You were kicked upstairs?

A: Kicked upstairs (LAUGHS). For what; for three years. And then I was appointed editor-in-chief and chief executive of Ziana, and I was there for 10 years.

That’s why people said we liked each other, and I had no case to answer.

Q: Yes, there is that perception, and you are saying it’s not true?

A: Yeah, not at all. After I resigned from Ziana in 2000, I said, look, I have had enough. I want to go back to teaching at university. I rejoined the university. Then after four years, I was appointed CEO of the ZBC.

That’s where the perception you are talking about originates, also combined with my tenure at Ziana. From my point of view it remains a perception.

Q: And these were the golden years of Ziana.

A: Yes, I’m afraid yes (LAUGHS).  I built a wonderful team that succeeded to make Ziana one of the best news agencies in Africa. The history is there.

Q: Do you get a sense Ziana has failed to embrace the new craze, the new technologies? It would seem, now it has mothballed, to some extent. Why do you think it has failed to adapt?

A: I don’t even hear about it anymore

Q: Yet it used to be a formidable news agency?

A: I think somebody somewhere decided to muzzle Ziana. I think so. I think it was one of the decisions by one of the ministers of Information. Really I have not addressed my mind to it.

Q: You mean Jonathan Moyo?

A: Whether it was Jonathan (LAUGHS). So professionalism was thrown out the window. Now, no one wants to buy news from Ziana. How much do you use news from Ziana?

Q: We hardly do.

A: So you see. That is the sad thing. This is another arm that the world can use like in the current dispensation to re-engage the world. People should be able to come to Ziana, read Ziana copy (news) and government should be able to use it as well. It must be credible in order to be used.

Q: And you were fired as CEO of ZBC. What was the problem there?

A: I was relieved of my position following the 2008 harmonised elections in which the MDC won. They blamed us for the loss because we allowed coverage of the opposition. But here is the true sequence of events.

Before elections, an agreement between Zanu PF and MDC was gazetted directing the State media how to give a fair coverage to all contesting parties.

Specifically, we were directed to accept all paid for adverts subject only to the existing laws governing advertising.

Zec (Zimbabwe Electoral Commission) summoned all media heads to a meeting to acquaint them on the new regulations.

When the campaign started, it was immediately clear MDC had far, far superior adverts for which they paid.

On the other hand, Zanu PF had old materials from previous elections which had no appeal in the circumstances.

I was alarmed and indeed disappointed by this. I sat down with (the Information) minister then, Dr Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, then also (Zanu PF spokesperson) Shamuyarira.

They assured me fresh and more relevant adverts were under production. Well, they never came. Various colleagues in the party called to express their understandable concern. I told them my frustrations.

Now, so the election came, and the result came through as it did. And I began to hear all sorts of things.  Somehow I had received a lot of money and joined both MDC and Dr Makoni’s Mavambo. Crazy stuff!

To me personally, what hurt me most deeply was to be labelled an enemy of the party for which I have worked so hard during and after the struggle.

Q: So they were blaming you for Zanu PF and Mugabe’s loss in 2008 to Morgan Tsvangirai?

A: Yes, saying I had embarrassed the president. I said how, you know, this is the legal instrument? I said I am not going to apologise to anybody because this is what you agreed upon.

Q: You successor at the ZBC, there has been outrageous executive remuneration.

A: And when I was there I was getting $3 000.

Q: Is that so?

A: Yes

Q: Really?!

A: Yes, that’s very, very true.

Q: And your successor, the salary ballooned to $40 000?

A: Yes, $40 000.

Q: Do you think this could be part of the problems at ZBC?

A: I think my successors were successful in manipulating the board. And the oversight role of the board was not being played.

Q: But how does the board approve a $40 000 CEO salary for a loss-making entity?

A: That’s why I said they manipulated the board, because for anything that the CEO wants, he approaches the board. You approach the chairman of course, that’s the normal course of action.

And if it is something which is material, you know, to change your status, pay wise and so forth; he has to put out to the board. But apparently this was not done. Then the corruption.

Q: The 10-times plus fold increase in salaries!

A: Yeah.

Q: Now let’s talk about the newspaper business. You have held executive positions in the newspaper industry, very senior positions. You know the newspapers are going through economic turmoil, there are retrenchments, companies forced to slash salaries, converging newsrooms, that kind of thing, to ensure survival. Would you say the game is to cut costs when revenue declines?

A: Do you know, obviously you know, the newspapers’ success, commercial success depends on the economic activity. If the country is going down, it means there is less advertising.

If you have less advertising, it means you have lost your income. You are suffering because of that.

If the economy picks up, there will be a lot more advertising to be done, and therefore you get your money that way.

Q: If someone would come to you with $10m, which company would you invest in?

A: Well, I am not a well known investor (LAUGHS). That’s one thing. And I would battle with that.

But you know I am fortunate in the sense that my wife is a businesswoman. If I had $10m, I would just say Grace, here is our fortune let’s do something. (LAUGHS)

Q: Which brings me to my next question? Your wife Grace Muradzikwa, the managing director of short-term insurer Nicoz Diamond, is a trailblazer executive. You have been very fortunate. And I presume that her success is also partly because she has a supportive husband. But, she makes big decisions at work and she comes home. How does she manage the work-life balance?

A: And cook for the family (LAUGHS).

Q: She cooks? How does she manage the work-life balance?

A: Let me be honest with you. The institution of marriage is sacred to me and to my wife as well. We both take marriage seriously. And we both go to church every Sunday. I help where I can but basically she fulfils her duties at home. I am indeed fortunate.

Q: What church do you go to?

A: We go to the Methodist Church. I grew up in Anglican and when we got married, I thought for the sake of children, my wife was Methodist, as let’s just go to Methodist.

I didn’t want my children to be confused. I didn’t see any difference. Methodist and Anglican are basically the same in review.

Q: Old school churches.

A: Yes. So I get inspiration from somebody, a woman like my wife, who engages me in discussions, intellectual discussions, deep discussions, I like that.

Even the way I am talking to you, you can see that I like talking. (LAUGHS).

So we spend a lot of time together, talking about things that challenges, stimulate the brain.

So, yes, she is very busy, very much involved in the financial markets.

Then the decisions that you refer to, yes I support her 100 percent.

Comments (1)

You are one lucky f*cker, Henry.kkkkkkkk!!

Chapo - 23 April 2018

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