Reports that the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) intends to set up a media council to censure journalists and media houses they deem “errant” are unfortunate.
When the ZMC was set up to replace the Media and Information Commission (MIC), a cautious sigh of relief ran through the media fraternity as the new commission raised expectations of neutrality.
However, the ZMC’s desire to censure media houses is a frightening signal it could be the same animal the country has fought against over many years.
ZMC chairperson Godfrey Majonga said: “Powers of the Media Council as provided by the Act (AIPPA) include the following when a breach has been made in the case of a journalist: cautioning the journalist, referring the matter for prosecution, suspending for a specific period not exceeding three months the accreditation of the journalist or deleting his or her name from the roll of journalists.”
The celebratory tone in the chairperson’s quotes of the Act betrays the commission’s full intention to use the draconian law to gag media freedom.
Ironically, AIPPA has always been viewed by progressive media practitioners as an undemocratic law and to find joy in implementing it is akin to revel in perpetuating evil.
Once again it is clear that for media freedom to be realised in this country, a voluntary rather than a statutory media organisation should be empowered to regulate media activities.
Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe executive director Takura Zhangazha rightly pointed out that the effect of ZMC’s move is to criminalise the media profession.
Why are they so intent on punishing journalists and media houses instead of concentrating on media reforms? Isn’t it fact that by setting up a council to oversee the repression of the media the ZMC is going against the grain of the Global Political Agreement that calls for media reforms?
What the commission intends to do gives credence to the call by media players for a voluntary regulatory body — a modern trend common in the region where professionals set up voluntary self-regulatory media bodies.
Who is Majonga and his commissioners representing? What is clear so far, however, is that the ZMC is slowly showing its true colours — those of an anti-democracy monster.
If Majonga’s pronouncements are the consensual views of all the commissioners, then the media fraternity is in for hard times and it is a great betrayal by some of them who used to cry foul against the constricted media space prevailing in this country.
It means their desire to be on that commission was not to help the cause for media freedom, but to join the evil train.
For the media fraternity, the ZMC’s replacement of MIC was simply a matter of replacing evil with evil.