Friday June 4, 2010 was a “red letter day” for this company, Alpha Media Holdings, and its newspaper group. That was the day we finally saw publication of our new daily, NewsDay, after over two years of waiting for registration.
We celebrated by handing out free copies of NewsDay. The police rose to the occasion by arresting our marketing staff!
But it was anyway a small hiccup in our painfully slow progress towards opening up media space as required by the Global Political Agreement. Elsewhere in the world what we have embarked upon is taken for granted.
Ours has been an abnormal society for the past 10 years or so. And as we worked on NewsDay, investing huge amounts of money in infrastructure and manpower many believed this project would never see the light of day. Many a time we were told about the futility of the project but our spirits were not dampened. We also received plenty of encouragement from many hungry for the unvarnished truth.
We love this country and believe Zimbabweans deserve better than our pathetic existence since the ill-conceived land reform exercise. We passionately believe that a professional and ethical press has a central role to play in normalising this country. Presently our country is strongly polarised along political lines to the detriment of us all. We desperately need to learn to trust one another and be tolerant again. We need to learn that national unity does not demand that we agree all the time. It is OK to disagree. We also need to learn that insults add no value to national discourse.
Zimbabweans have a right to a diversity of views in the press. Only when this occurs can voters make an informed choice at the polls.
We promise to make a difference in this regard by airing a variety of viewpoints. But we promise much else besides. NewsDay will provide a platform for Zimbabweans to talk to each other without fear or favour.
It is time to bring a close to the narrow exclusivist nationalism of the past which has so ill-served us as a nation, setting black against white and black against black. We will celebrate our diversity. We will also strive to be independent of advertisers, interest groups, big business and political parties.
NewsDay has a duty to be balanced and objective at all times. We will appoint an internal ombud who will be a retired judge or editor to ensure the paper lives up to its principles.
We make a commitment to seek out the truth and double-check the facts to win your confidence. But we are human and mistakes will be made. When that happens we will be the first to correct our errors.
NewsDay will be an activist on behalf of the people to ensure good governance. We will cherish basic human rights, democracy, and freedom of expression.
In other words NewsDay will be Zimbabwe candidly talking to itself.
While there is a celebratory mood here at AMH, we have our work cut out for us. No newspaper can function properly in the teeth of a raft of repressive measures such as those we face which include the notorious Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa), Public Order and Security Act (Posa), Interception of Communications Act, and the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.
This is not just a freedom-of-expression issue. Investors will be reluctant to come into such a poisoned political climate where newspaper editors are arbitrarily arrested, nor will they want to wait two years before they can set up shop!
Despite obstacles and setbacks we firmly believe Zimbabwe is on a path to democracy and better governance. The relaxation of licensing laws is a first step along that path. But that’s all it is. Recidivist elements will seek to obstruct us every step of the way. We must be prepared to defend our new-found freedoms and provide the people of Zimbabwe with the press they deserve.
NewsDay answers your call for a daily newspaper that provides balance and objectivity in its coverage of national issues. By listening to you we will strive to produce a newspaper that meets your expectations. There will be times when we will disagree and times when NewsDay will have to provide leadership. A newspaper is only as good as its sources and its society.
We invite you to join us in walking this important path to freedom of expression, transparency and accountability.
If the truth be told, this is your newspaper. We are mere custodians. So use us for the benefit of Zimbabwe.
We want to hear from you as we work to produce a newspaper that is engaged and relevant. Zimbabwe is currently short of skills but we have managed to gather a great team of journalists — some experienced, others starting out in their careers — to produce what we believe will be the best daily Zimbabwe has ever seen.
We are doing this because we strongly believe Zimbabwe’s best days are still ahead and not behind us. We believe in Zimbabweans, their resilience and capacity to bounce back and turn this country into the Zimbabwe we have all been dreaming of.
Trevor Ncube is Chairman of Alpha Media Holdings, publishers of NewsDay