Monday, November 26, 2007

Voluntary Media Council takes struggle for media freedom to a new level

The launch of the Media Council of Zimbabwe (MCZ) on 8 June 2007 spurred the struggle for media freedom in Zimbabwe to a new height where the media itself should be in the driving seat.

My optimism might easily be dismissed as naïve, coming as it does against the backdrop of the relentless repression against the media and the citizens' right to freedom of expression.

That optimism is, however, based on the belief that the agents of change are the oppressed themselves and not the oppressors. The MCZ, in other words, marks the resurrection of the repressed.

The MCZ is described in different terms depending on the side one belongs to. Simply put, it is a move by the media to take charge of its own affairs, to boldly say to society we can be accountable and that media workers can contribute to the development of the media without the chains imposed by laws such as AIPPA.

The Zimbabwe media, be it private or state-owned, has been at the receiving end of repression resulting in the closure of four independent newspapers under a repressive regime of state regulation and other extra-judicial means. The state media is persistently purged of dissenting voices and has been made a shameful mouthpiece of the ruling elite.

Having the media take the initiative through processes such as the MCZ is a way of practically seeking media transformation, accountability and responsibility. The MCZ will not, under the present circumstances, result in the licensing of the Daily News, The Tribune or the Weekly Times, but is in fact, opening a new front in dismantling the repressive media law regime currently suffocating media development in Zimbabwe. It might as well be true that some banned newspapers might be gone for good but the struggle by those still operating and those banned should set a firm and secure platform for those that will emerge in the future.

Taking the drivers seat in this case, is thus embarking on a long journey of seeking and acting to influence change, for ourselves and posterity by retaining the public's confidence in the media. The MCZ presents a chance for media workers to unite on a common idea and broaden the struggle for change with the support and involvement of the citizenry who are set to benefit and use the MCZ as an amicable platform for conflict resolution.

The mere existence of the MCZ is a statement that the media is part of society and that for the media to exist it needs two distinct groups:
the public and the publishers/media organisation(s). For the MCZ to work it needs public support because the basis of its formation is to enhance interaction with the public and amicable resolution of disputes in a non litigation manner as opposed to what we have witnessed under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA).

Under the current media laws, the media are bombed and intimidated notwithstanding the numerous arrests of journalists. It must be emphasised that a critical missing component in the protection of the media in Zimbabwe has been lack of public support for media diversity. The closure of newspapers has thus not only deprived the public access to alternative information but subjected the population to fatal doses of government propaganda that serves no public interest agenda.

The MCZ, it is argued, brings the two together for a common cause on the premise that the media belongs to the people and not to the ruling elite or the Stalinist Ministry of Information and Publicity which spends taxpayers' money making phone calls to the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) directing how stories are to be covered. The same ministry argues that AIPPA is a law that defends “national interests”, an obvious confusion and failure to distinguish national interests from partisan selfish interests.

If the media belongs to the people and media owners in their various and diverse forms are using the public space to spread information and honestly make a living, then it follows that the same media should be responsible and accountable to the public. The MCZ then becomes the platform for public and media interaction away from the dictates of policy makers who have totally divergent interests with regard to the media with those of both the media itself and the public.

The vociferous defense of AIPPA as a necessary piece of legislation by the Ministry of Information and Publicity will not abate anytime soon nor should we be foolish to expect the policy dinosaurs in that Ministry to change. Change will, however, come and it will come through struggle and on our own terms. The Ministry of Information will not change because it cannot. Its political life and that of its masters depend on repressive laws like AIPPA.

The MCZ is therefore a tool to fight bad policy. By its very nature
the MCZ cannot work with the state-controlled Media and Information Commission (MIC) - it cannot co-operate with AIPPA because the MCZ is an antithesis of statutory regulation. The MCZ might fail to get the full co-operation of all media players, which is sad, but nevertheless expected because the dominant media is in the hands and control of the policy dinosaurs. What has to be stated for certain though is that the MCZ is not going to simply fade away because some 'powerful' permanent secretary, pseudo intellectuals and soldiers running this Ministry dislike the idea.

The same people who pride themselves with crafting AIPPA, shutting down newspapers and causing the near decimation of the privately owned media in Zimbabwe are still caught up in the Stalinist era with regard to the role of the media.

The media policy dinosaurs within the Ministry of Information and Publicity have no tangible or sensible reason to oppose the MCZ other than that it is not their own initiative and secondly, it is a threat to their stranglehold on the media and the abuse they pile week in and week out on innocent citizens in civil society, the opposition, and private media, abusing publications including The Herald and Sunday Mail.

What has obviously escaped these policy dinosaurs is the movement that has taken place with regard to media the world over. These movements include the diversification of channels of media content distribution, demystification of the media as a newsroom or physical entity that can be shut, threatened, confiscated and regulated. New technologies the world over enable wider participation in information creation, dissemination and consumption. This means that media regulation has to take into account the opening up of media space to as many people as possible, whether through personal websites, blogs, and other online publications.

Participation in information dissemination is no longer the responsibility of a few through regulated media houses, but anyone can do so freely - anyone can sell and disseminate information. Media policy in Zimbabwe should look at the benefits of these new technologies in social and economic development. Media policy can, therefore, not be developed and administered ruthlessly by a paranoid system that looks at the media as an enemy and sees and confuses its selfish interests with national interests.

The MCZ is a statement to say that true national interests are protected by broader participation and involvement and not through exclusion, repression and persecution.

End of the road for Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai?

IN 1985, I was a grade four pupil at Tapfuma Primary School in Marondera and President Robert Mugabe was an energetic man in his early 60s and he happened to have been campaigning to be retained as the head of state in that year.
I was one of the lucky few to have greeted him at Rudhaka Stadium, and for two days I refused to wash my right hand despite threats of a serious thrashing from my vegetable vendor mother. President Mugabe went on to win as usual and life went on as usual till 2000 when the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) led by Morgan Tsvangirai rattled President Mugabe.
I got to know Tsvangirai years later when I was a student at the University of Zimbabwe. We admired his fiery May 1 speeches. May 1 was a date each student looked forward to as we could march and sing all the way to Rufaro Stadium and get inspired.
I was part of a group of students who were addressed by Tsvangirai at the University of Zimbabwe Great Hall around 1998-1999. The call was that he should join politics, and his premonition was, will the people follow should he take this route. I am sure he can answer that now.
The paths of two post-independence political leaders who have become the fiercest rivals were to cross in 2002. It is a public secret who won that election, despite what the 'official results' say. Zimbabwe has never been the same again since 2000.
Others say the fact that President Mugabe had such a fierce hatred for Tsvangirai meant that Zimbabwe would go down the drain if none of the two gave up. None has given up but something has, and it is end game for the two rivals.
On September 18 2007, the Zimbabwe parliament passed the 18th Amendment to the transitional Lancaster House constitution.
In the amendment President Mugabe made piecemeal concessions, nothing substantive, and nothing concrete to cause a sea change in the political fortunes of Zimbabwe. The MDC, in its wisdom or lack of it, says it supports the process to build bridges. Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa says Zimbabweans have come of age. But what is in it for the two bitter rivals, President Mugabe and Tsvangirai?
ZANU PF realises that its future is a dead-end should it continue on the current path but there is no one with the guts to change the status quo. President Mugabe has centralised power around himself since 1980. Nonetheless he has become a liability and his time to go, has without doubt come, but how?
Constitutional Amendment Number 18 is the most likely strategy to exit with his head high. He has "defeated" Tsvangirai, he has "defeated" Britain and Tony Blair. He has "defeated" the great United States of America and Bush. He has shown the rest of Africa how to deal with imperialists, more importantly President Mugabe has defeated the palace coup plotters.
President Mugabe will be allowed to "choose" his successor, and go in grace with his tail up. He has written a new chapter in African politics by remaining at the helm of a virtually collapsed country.
Who ever is the chosen one will without doubt make the seemingly concrete concessions. Maybe the Daily News will come back, maybe the Broadcasting Services Act, the Public Order and Security Act and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act will be amended. Maybe the youth militia camps will be closed, maybe the war veterans will go back to their poverty in urban and rural areas.
The chosen one will reach out to the international community through Thabo Mbeki and SADC and say "here you are, human rights have been restored, hail to Thabo, please pass us on the money".
Zimbabwe will be another "classic" case of how Africans have come of age in resolving a crisis. Quiet diplomacy will be adopted in political science curricula and the UN will appoint an ambassador and Permanent Representative of Quiet Diplomacy. President Mbeki might give a lecture on this.
For Zimbabwe at least, President Mugabe will be gone, and that to others, is change enough.
While President Mugabe's fate is clear, that of Tsvangirai is a classic case of betrayal. Tsvangirai is not a Member of Parliament and is likely to be the MDC candidate in an unwinnable election. MDC supporters are likely to question him, and accuse him and his team of selling out. Some youths will still sing, Morgan Tsvangirai Ndizvo, achasunungura Zimbabwe. But the boat seems to have passed Tsvangirai already.
The MDC leader faces hard questions in explaining the events of September 18, when ZANU PF and the MDC unanimously agreed to amend the Constitution, to the majority of his supporters. Especially what bridge has been built, what this bridge means for the ordinary citizen, to Chiminya and Mabika, to Ndabanyana and hundreds of others who lost their lives for the MDC. He will also owe an explanation to th the majority of Zimbabweans whose lives have been ruined because of ZANU PF's policies.
The likely scenario is that Tsvangirai is the unwilling sacrificial lamb, sacrificed at the altar of quiet diplomacy and the quest for power by those inside his 'cabinet'. Tsvangirai, as the situation stands, cannot win an election next year under the present electoral laws and environment and without a parliamentary seat his fate is sealed.
Arthur Mutambara will be 'magnanimous' and give Tsvangirai a shot at goal, while he runs as an ordinary MP or Senator and win. Tsvangirai, come end of 2008, will be out and come the MDC congress a few years later, will be gone for good.
The MDC has no leverage to push ZANU PF to implement what ever Chinamasa promised apart from cooption, the path the party has already taken. The rest of Zimbabweans will continue to scratch the ground for survival, after all are we not Africans like the Somalis and Congolese. Let the regime change and transition that Zimbabwe has been waiting for begin.
Rashweat Mukundu is the director of MISA-Zimbabwe

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Keeping our heads up!

The Zimbabwe Media Review is a media and freedom of expression blog commenting on the media, political social and economic situation in Zimbabwe. The name comes from the discontinued MISA-Zimbabwe publication started in 2002 but did not last long.

My new found knowledge of the power of blogs has, therefore, given a new lease of life to the Zimbabwe Media Review. Blogs are revolutionalising the way in which information is shared and distributed and mark the dawn of a new era for journalism. This is so because no one can claim the right to write and inform but everyone can now do so and with a fair amount of impact. This blog, as indicated, is purely dedicated to media and freedom of expression as well as political issues in Zimbabwe. I do this in salutation to the hundreds of Zimbabwean journalists who have bore the brunt of a repressive regime but have, against odds, maintained their heads up.Aluta Continua till freedom come!