ZANU PF functionaries still dominate Zimbabwe media: Report

HARARE – Officials linked to President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU PF party and central bank chief Gideon Gono still enjoy unfettered publicity from the country’s public media two months after formation of an inclusive government, a media monitoring organisation has said.

In its weekly media report, the Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe (MMPZ) said people "linked to ZANU PF" continued to indulge in "abuse of public media", citing the Herald’s recent reproduction of comments made by Gono during the era when ZANU PF used to rule the country alone.

"Nothing more clearly illustrates the continued abuse of public media by senior government officials linked to ZANU PF than the Herald’s coverage of the Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono’s address to parliamentarians during which he defended his quasi-fiscal policies that were partly to blame for the country’s economic collapse," MMPZ said.

"Instead of critically examining his statements, the paper (Herald) published stories between Friday April 3 and Wednesday April 8 2009 merely regurgitating his justification of discredited activities during ZANU PF government reign."

The media body said although the daily supinely reported Gono as having dismissed private media reports that he had run a parallel government prior to the formation of the inclusive government on February 11, there was no attempt to unmask Gono’s statements of dishonesty when he diverted funds meant to assist the Global Fund.

"There was no attempt to relate dishonest statements to documented evidence of his abuse of money from Global Fund and his raids on foreign currency accounts belonging to exporters and NGOs among other irregular activities," MMPZ said.

"Neither did the paper seek independent corroboration of merely executing his mandate as stipulated by law governing operations of the central bank."

The problem was not confined to the Herald alone, MMPZ said as this also spilled over to the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation’s (ZBC) SpotFM which changed its mid-morning programming to accommodate the live broadcast of Gono’s more than one-and-half-hour long address, which it repeated the same evening.

"It is such blatant abuse of the public media that vindicates calls for urgent media law reforms that would help Zimbabweans to reclaim public media so as to ensure that they fully adhere to their mandate of serving the interests of all citizens."

Zimbabwe’s power-sharing government early this month undertook to open up the media to more players within the next 100 days, agreeing to reform Zimbabwe’s restrictive media regulatory environment so as to ensure press freedom.

State Minister Gorden Moyo told reporters after a ministerial retreat in Victoria Falls that government had “resolved that the media laws be reformed and that space be provided for more players”.

“We are expecting that we will have a new media commission which will oversee serious steps toward freeing the airwaves in terms of licensing TV and radio stations and allowing other players from outside to come and broadcast from Zimbabwe," said Moyo.

Government-controlled newspapers are the biggest and most dominant in Zimbabwe after Mugabe’s government banned four privately owned newspapers including the Daily News, which was the largest circulating daily at its forced closure in 2003.

There are no independent broadcasters in Zimbabwe. The state-owned ZBC runs the country’s only television and radio stations, all tightly controlled by government, which has the final say on senior editorial and managerial appointments.

The southern African country has some of the toughest media laws in the world. For example, the government’s Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) requires journalists to obtain licences from the government’s Media and Information Commission in order to practise in Zimbabwe.

The commission can withdraw licences from journalists who fail to conform. Journalists caught practising without a licence are liable to a two-year jail term under AIPPA.

Besides journalists being required to obtain licences, newspaper companies are also required to register with the state commission with those failing to do so facing closure and seizure of their equipment by the police.

Former opposition leader and now Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Mugabe formed a power sharing government in February to rescue Zimbabwe’s ruined economy and work to end a humanitarian crisis manifested in deepening poverty and disease.

Article 19 of the power-sharing agreement signed in September by Zimbabwe’s major political parties acknowledges the need for a free and diverse media environment. – ZimOnline