Lance Guma speaks to Deputy Information Minister Jameson Timba

The programme finds out if the conference produced any results? Timba is also questioned on why the MDC, which has a majority in Parliament, is not simply striking down repressive laws like AIPPA and POSA using that majority?

Lance Guma: Hello Zimbabwe and welcome to another edition of Behind the Headlines. This week we are privileged to have the deputy minister of Information, Media and Publicity Mr Jameson Timba. Mr Timba, thank you for joining us on the programme.

Jameson Timba: Thanks Lance.

Lance: Recently the government hosted the media conference in Kariba. There was of course a lot of controversy surrounding it, we’ll get to that but how did the conference go?

Timba: I think the conference went very well in that the stakeholders, who did manage to attend, participated fully in the deliberations and came up with specific recommendations as to how they want to see the media landscape in Zimbabwe changing.

Lance: Do you think the boycott of the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe took a significant chunk of relevance from the conference? What is your assessment?

Timba: Let me say that we are involved in a process of removing the polarisation that has bedevilled both the country at national level in various industries including the media itself. It is the intention of the ministry to ensure that every stakeholder in the media is involved in the process of reviewing the policies and the laws governing media. The Media Alliance did not attend the conference. I understand and respect their decision not to do so but we have since engaged with the Media Alliance and asked them to make written submissions in terms of their own recommendations which they have since done and we appreciate that.

Lance: Mr Timba, I saw a report of something that took place, or one incident that took place during the conference where a state media journalist had a slanging match with the former chairperson of the Media and Information Commission, Dr Tafataona Mahoso. It does look from the reports that Mahoso was actually speaking out against any form of media reforms, going by the reports. Are these attitudes still prevalent where you still have people who are rather worried about opening up the media?

Timba: Peoples’ perception of the media, either in Zimbabwe or anywhere else in the world will never be the same. It is my view that if we are to change the media environment in Zimbabwe it cannot apply the same thinking that created those problems and one of the key, in my view, central problems within the media industry is being intolerant, so my thinking is that if we revisit intolerance we’ll not be able to resolve the problem that the media is facing. So not withstanding what other people might think there was a general understanding and more recommendations from that conference of the need to reform our media environment.

Lance: Now in the last interview that I had with you I did point out that there was general criticism of the new coalition government for being too slow in terms of enacting its legislative agenda. One point that has been pointed out by several journalists is the MDC has a simple majority in parliament, the MDC has a majority in parliament and repressive legislation like AIPPA and POSA could be removed by a simple majority. You don’t require a two-thirds majority, so why has there been no striking down of those repressive laws?

Timba: There are two ways Lance, in which laws can be amended and or made in this country. The most prevalent one is proposals for amending laws and or repealing them coming from the executive and being submitted to parliament through the leader of the house of parliament. The other method is the one of the private member’s bill. In our history, the history of our country, the only other time that there was an attempted private member’s bill was when Honourable Jonathan Moyo came up with a Gukurahundi Bill. I believe that there is so much commitment within the inclusive government for repealing and or amending any legislation that has affected peoples’ basic freedoms. With respect to AIPPA there was a specific unanimous recommendation at Kariba that AIPPA be repealed and be replaced by Freedom of Information Act and the Media Practitioners Act.

Lance: So in this particular case, what are you saying in terms of the reforms – they are coming via which route?

Timba: Reforms are coming via the executive which means that the media reforms will be spearheaded by the minister of information with full consultation with the stakeholders in the media itself. Legislation or a law Lance, is a translation of public policy into law, that’s all it is and we believe that before we go to the end game which is the laws themselves we need to be able to understand and come up with a new media policy. It is that new media policy which must then inform the law that governs the industry.

Lance: I suppose the frustration that a lot of people face is when the new unity government came into power, people thought things would happen immediately, journalists would be allowed to come back into the country, set up newspapers. What they are seeing is just a dragging of feet. Would you understand those frustrations?

Timba: Yes it is expected Lance, its always a crisis of expectation after the change of a government, but this government that is there Lance, is less than a 100 days old in office and it is a government which is has been established by two former protagonists who are going through processes of trying to establish that government. In my view to expect that the government that is formed today and in two weeks time that government is appealing or amending laws without a clearly defined process of doing so I think it’s dangerous. I think that the process that is taking place now where everyone who is affected and concerned with specific laws not withstanding what has been said before is actually involved in a process dealing with those policies and laws is a much more organised way of doing it in my view.

Lance: Recently we just had the two journalists from the Zimbabwe Independent arrested by police over a story which authorities are saying contained false information. That obviously generated a lot of headlines internationally, does is not harm the attempts that you as a government are trying to push through?

Timba: Lance, my position on the issue of the arrest of journalists is public knowledge. I condemn unreservedly the arrest of journalists when they are conducting their work. That incident was unfortunate and is something that should not have happened. Most particularly when these journalists were arrested for having published what was already in the public domain.

Lance: What is happening here Mr Timba from your assessment, just today (Thursday 14 May 2009) we are covering the arrest of human rights lawyer Alec Muchadehama, he is currently as I’m interviewing you, at Harare Central police station. A lot of people don’t get what is happening because it looks like one part of government is pulling in one direction and another part is pulling in another. Can you make sense on our behalf, what is happening?

Timba: My assessment Lance is that generally there is commitment by the various parties in this government to make this project work, but you must also appreciate that there are and will still remain, individuals OK who will have their own agendas and their own objective vis-à-vis this inclusive government. And such teething problems are expected in the formative stages of a coalition government but should not be condoned.

Lance: Let me slightly shift to another separate issue in terms of media plurality opening up for new players. A lot of the talk has centred mainly on the print media, there’s a general feeling broadcasting isn’t really being talked about a lot and that there does seem to be a reluctance, particularly from Zanu-PF to a opening up of the airwaves. They will be comfortable having several daily newspapers but it looks like there is this holding on to the broadcasting spectrum, is this true?

Timba: No. The Global Political Agreement is very specific. The principals have agreed and committed themselves but new media houses or the re-registration of existing ones must take place under the existing legislation. That is the registration of other newspapers etc. They’ve also made a specific commitment on the opening up of the airwaves. That decision is irreversible Lance. Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) once their new board is put in place hopefully within the next 30 days or so, they are obliged to invite applications for various licences – television, national radio, local commercial radios and community radios as per available, as per the frequency allocation plan and newspapers whoever is intending to run a newspaper in Zimbabwe will be able to do so without a problem.

Lance: The thing is Mr. Timba, speaking to you as the deputy minister in that particular ministry, obviously with your background you will obviously be in a sense progressive and pull in the right direction. What people would want to understand is your working relationship with the minister who is from Zanu-PF, Mr Webster Shamu. Is that not what is failing to inspire confidence in a lot of people in the sense that the deputy minister who is yourself will say the right thing but not much is coming from Mr Shamu in terms of progressive talk?

Timba: Mr Shamu is a journalist and currently I am working with him very well and he understands the issues and concerns within the media industry and at this juncture, I can safely say to you Lance, we are pulling in the same direction to implement the media reform agenda.

Lance: In general of course Mr Timba, just a general question obviously to close the programme since we are running out of time, this new government has gone through the first 100 days, on Wednesday prime minister Tsvangirai launched a new hundred day plan. In general what is your assessment of the first 100 days of your government in power? How would you characterise how it has gone?

Timba: In December last year, December, even up to as early as January Lance, OK, this country was unable to produce one loaf of bread, inflation was skyrocketing, no products in supermarkets, absolutely nothing, there was no life, schools had shut down, all hospitals had shut down. In less than 100 days, this government has brought hope back into the country. Civil servants coming to work, being paid an allowance above any other previous salaries that they’ve earned before. Teachers going back and recommitting themselves to education in this country, hospitals opening up and beginning to provide services to patients, an economy starting now to function when in actual fact it had effectively collapsed by the end of the year. So my view is that in less than a 100 days, this government more than anything else has brought hope and signs of clear economic stabilisation.

Lance: That’s the deputy minister of Information, Media and Publicity, Mr. Jameson Timba joining us on Behind the Headlines. Mr. Timba, thank you for joining us.

Timba: Thank you Lance.

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