President Robert Mugabe’s utterances at a luncheon hosted for him and legislators following the opening of Parliament on Tuesday where he insinuated that the media needed more controls were quite disturbing and enough to cause unnecessary anxiety.
Looked at independently, they may seem somewhat innocuous, as it seemed the President was admonishing the media for writing lies against him or anyone.
The media, both public and private, have a responsibility to write the truth, accurately and objectively and in this regard, Mugabe, or anyone, has the right to censure the media if they feel they are going overboard.
However, looked at within the wider context, a troubling pattern begins to emerge, which shows a calculated onslaught on the media is in the offing and this is cause for concern.
At the last Zanu PF politburo meeting, a subtle warning was issued to the private media, while Nathaniel Manheru, a columnist with The Herald, widely believed to be Mugabe’s spokesman George Charamba, has also issued ominous warnings to the private media.
Zimbabwe’s record in the protection and preservation of individual rights is not one to write home about and we fear we are beginning to trudge down that dangerous road that we thought we had long left in the past.
We had hoped that with the new Constitution, freedoms, not just of the media or free speech, would be guaranteed, but such hopes are increasingly seeming naïve and show that when authorities feel threatened, they quickly resort to legislating against rights that are fundamental to democracy.
We acknowledge and appreciate that there has been an improvement in the legislative environment, but we have a duty to safeguard these gains, while working towards continuous improvement and in this regard, we feel Mugabe’s utterances may be taking us a few steps backwards.
What is also worrying is that some over-enthusiastic members of Mugabe’s government or party may take advantage of these statements and launch their own vigilante-like justice on the media.
It is also worrying that these threats come at a time the nation is still demanding answers on the whereabouts of journalist and activist, Itai Dzamara, who disappeared ostensibly because he dared exercise his rights to demonstrate and speak freely.
Instead of legislating against the media, we advise Mugabe and those who think like him that there are a number of civil legal avenues they may use instead of the threat to legislate the media.
While sceptics may dismiss these concerns saying the media is crying wolf and that we deserve a reprimand for the way we have carried ourselves about, the sad truth is: After they are done curtailing media freedoms, what is to stop them from coming to your sector?
It is time Zimbabweans spoke with one voice and defended each other against threats on any individual or sector’s rights.