The media reforms I would love to see


candour:Nqaba Matshazi

For the past few years, the buzzword has been “reforms”, and I thought I could share with you some of the changes I would like to see, particularly with regards to the media sector.
My colleagues in civil society have made their positions clear on what kind of laws they want to see and those they want struck off.

I will not go in that direction, although I will borrow from them in some instances; instead mine is a focus on rudimentary issues or low-hanging fruits to reform our media environment.

The first thing that President Emmerson Mnangagwa ought to do is get rid of the Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services ministry, as it serves little or no purpose at all.

It is a moribund relic of the Cold War era and it deserves to be canned; there is absolutely no justification for that ministry.

And those running it right now are out of their depth and will not be missed if that ministry is cut.

But the ministry gives information on behalf of the government, I hear some say.

Instead, every ministry should have, if that is not the case already, an information and advocacy department, that will speak on behalf of that ministry.

For example, the Foreign Affairs ministry can have someone speaking on its behalf instead of going to the Information ministry each time they want to issue a statement, this cuts bureaucracy and red tape.

In addition, the government will make major savings by cutting that ministry and deploying junior staff to other ministries, where they are likely to be more useful.

If there is a desperate need to have the Broadcasting Services Authority and Zimbabwe Media Commission, then these should be merged, with their job being about spectrum rather than licensing.

There is no need to break the media sector into “media” and “broadcasting” and have two authorities in charge of this industry.

Our media sector is already small enough as it is and there is no justification for having two commissions; either merge them or dispense with one.

On that note, we, as the media have been pushing for self-regulation for eons, so it only makes sense to get one commission, with a very narrow mandate, while we pursue self-regulation.

With only one commission or authority, Finance minister Mthuli Ncube will immediately see some returns and savings, as a load would have been lifted from the taxpayer.

Still on that theme, the media commission or whatever it will be called, should report to Parliament and not to a minister.

Why a minister, who in most cases is an appointee with minimal experience in media, should be in charge of the country’s media beggars belief.

Parliament should have an oversight role of the media authority or commission and not a minister.

There is absolutely no reason why the government should own a newspaper, radio or television station and that means the State should divest from Zimpapers, with its stake sold to the public or at worst to a trust.

Again, we are stuck in a Cold War type of rut, where the government wants to influence what we read and think and for that reason they think having a controlling stake in a media house is a brilliant idea.

It actually is not a very clever idea.

A reimagined Zimbabwe Mass Media Trust (ZMMT), which is not appointed by the Information minister nor reports to the Information ministry could be a starting point of how a reformed Zimpapers could operate.

Examples abound in Namibia and the United Kingdom of how this can operate.

By having a controlling stake in Zimpapers, which is supposed to be controlled by the pointless ZMMT, the government is both a player and a regulator in the print media sector and this is an anomaly that needs to be corrected.

The government needs, with a sense of urgency, to get rid of New Ziana; it is an idea whose time has come and gone.

It might have worked well when the local media was still small and relied on the government for news, but that time has passed and now the authorities have to sell it.

Community newspapers should be sold to the communities they operate in and for continuity the authorities need to ensure that such projects get some form of tax break, which is legislated by the way, so that they do not seem as if they are operating on government’s benevolence.

Hopefully, community radio stations will be allowed to operate — note I said allowed not licensed, as licensing of these outlets is an archaic practice — and that will fill in the vacuum left by some of New Ziana’s products if they collapse in some areas.

New Ziana already operates out of the Information ministry and I have already called for the disbandment of that ministry.

Oh and then there is ZBC, an archaic relic, which at this point serves no purpose really other than to be a drain on public finances.

My reimagined ZBC would be run by a board or trustees that are appointed by Parliament for a fixed term.

This group of people will then choose the executive to run the ZBC.

The board should reflect gender, ethnic and political diversity and be accountable to the people of Zimbabwe rather than Zanu PF or any party for that matter.

ZBC should then operate as a public service broadcaster, not the party mouthpiece it currently is.

In relation to Zimpapers and ZBC, the abnormality that a journalist can take leave from work to run for political office and then seamlessly return to work when they lose, should be immediately jettisoned and never be repeated again; it just does not make any sense.

Once the government moves out of the media sector and allows it to operate more freely, I believe we are bound to see massive growth and innovation in this sector.

 Nqaba Matshazi is AMH’s head of digital. He writes in his personal capacity. Feedback: Twitter: @nqabamatshazi