Shamu must not outlaw reforms


The Zimbabwean media joins the rest of the world to commemorate World Press Freedom Day tomorrow with a sense of trepidation.

Just as a flicker of hope had come from political agreement on necessary media reforms to be implemented in Zimbabwe, through the roadmap to free and fair elections in the country, our own minister, Webster Shamu, appears determined to reverse all that.

To begin with, the minister wants to pretend ignorance of the meaning of “State media” or “public media”.

Referring to aspects that the roadmap recommends for reform, Shamu claims hate speech “is not an issue of the so-called public or State media, whatever those terms mean”.

As Minister of Media, Information and Publicity, Shamu must surely know that State or public media refers to broadcasting or print medium that is owned and belongs to the State and therefore to every taxpayer, including members of political parties contesting the governing party which effectively controls the public/State media.

But the minister seems to be of the view that if another section of the media, the privately-owned entities, are critical of the government of the day and or the governing party, it is only fair that the government or the powerful party in government must use the public media to defend itself by attacking those against the government and be used as the property of the governing party.

And Shamu really should be the last person to seek to suggest that the media in Zimbabwe does not generate hate speech. He says the hate speeches come from political parties and the media should not be blamed.

“Media houses have been carrying hate messages. Only in a very limited sense have they been generating them and even then, at the behest of political parties,” the minister says.

This is hardly believable coming from a whole minister especially given the fact that political violence in Zimbabwe has been fanned via the media and also the fact that we have had media houses closed or bombed by political players in the country.

We pray the minister does not succeed on this destructive path that he appears to have embarked on.

Zimbabwe has in the past few weeks seen the flowering of the independent Press, a move that has seen the country progress towards democracy and greater respect for human rights. But then, most African countries perceive private ownership of the mass media as an unwelcome confrontation.

Journalists are charged or threatened for reporting on the ill- health of political leaders who would have us believe that they are God and therefore not susceptible to disease.

Media houses have been harassed for daring to report on the academic performance and/ or qualifications of the wives of powerful people even though the correctness of the reports is never in fact challenged.

It is however unfortunate but true that journalists have themselves at times undermined their own freedom, thereby subjecting themselves to actions that would seem repressive and unfair.

There are journalists who do not check their facts diligently before reporting. There are also times when they have deliberately tinkered with facts in order to produce a particular effect.

We must be the first to condemn such practices since they provide the forces hostile to media freedom with the excuse for harassing or banishing the media altogether.