Shamu media attack draws fire

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Media organisations yesterday blasted Media Information and Publicity Minister Webster Shamu for threatening to revoke licences of foreign and private media organisations for attacking “ . . . the person of His Excellency, the President (Robert Mugabe), and the party (Zanu PF).”

Shamu reportedly made the threats at a Zanu PF function in Mutare over the weekend.

“We cannot allow the denigration of the highest office in the land . . .We are not against criticism but not vilification. They are forcing us to take measures and they must stand warned,” he was quoted as saying by a local daily yesterday, adding that countries like Britain had over 50 measures which impinged on press freedom.
The threats have not been taken lightly by media representative bodies in Zimbabwe.

Said Misa-Zimbabwe in a statement: “The minister’s threats make a strong case on the urgent need for constitutional provisions that explicitly guarantee media freedom and citizens’ right to access to information.

“While journalists should at all times strive for balance, fairness and respect for citizens’ right to privacy, Misa-Zimbabwe also expects the Minister to forcefully defend media freedom by condemning and demanding the arrest of the culprits who recently assaulted journalists working for the private media at Parliament Building in Harare.”

The Zimbabwe National Editors’ Forum weighed in.
“President Mugabe is a politician seeking re-election. He has at his disposal a host of laws, many dating from the colonial era that he does not hesitate to use against his critics.

He therefore has an advantage denied to others. It is fatuous of minister Shamu to cite British laws from the 1840s.

No journalist has been banished under such laws but Zimbabwean journalists practising abroad have been unable to return to the country of their birth because of threats by politicians, some of whom we now learn are happy to serve the Americans,” said Iden Wetherell, the Forum’s chairperson who is also Group Senior Associate Editor of Alpha Media Holdings.

The Zimbabwe Union of Journalists agreed.
“The statements continue to portray us as a country not yet prepared to embrace freedom of expression and freedom of the media. Reference to draconian media laws is not helpful in the sense that despotic regimes have actually borrowed from those bad pieces of legislation to entrench their dictatorship,” said ZUJ Secretary-General, Foster Dongozi.

Many fear that Shamu’s remarks maybe an indication of a looming clampdown on the private media ahead of elections, tentatively set for next year.