All Stakeholders Media Conference a Sham

First The Herald says the main issue that came out of the conference is that sanctions should be lifted to level the media playing field. It boggles the mind how that issue ever arose in a conference around media in Zimbabwe, of all places.

And which level playing field is The Herald talking about? Does this level playing field relate to the dominance of the state media, The Herald included, in information dissemination in Zimbabwe? This matter is made so obvious by the fact that the only daily newspapers in Zimbabwe are those owned by Zimpapers after the violent shut down of the Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe.

Does this level playing field relate to the dominance of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) which is the sole broadcasting station in Zimbabwe? Does this playing field relate to the detention of Shadreck Andrisson Manyere who is languishing under police guard in hospital, after being abducted, detained incommunicado?

We wonder whether this level playing field also relates to the bombings of the Daily News, the hounding out of the country of hundreds of journalists and the arrest of Zimbabwe Independent editors for publishing the story on police complicity in the abduction of Jestina Mukoko, Manyere and others in December.

The Herald did the sceptics of this conference a huge favour by confirming that nothing has changed in the thinking of the Zanu PF government.

The much talked about media conference obviously came to nothing because it was never meant to be about reform, but a confirmation of the desire by the new government to perpetuate the current media law regime by tinkering with the periphery while leaving the centre intact.

The conference completely missed the point by attempting to be a public bus open to all views, including the absurd, to be discussed, except genuine reform.

No wonder the conference got so much criticism over some of the topics included in the programme.

According to former Minister of Information and Publicity Jonathan Moyo the conference, was meant to address the continued queries on harassment of the media. Do we need a full conference to raise complaints on the arrests of journalists?

After a whole conference, the main issues around media and freedom of expression in Zimbabwe remain the skewed, repressive media laws and abuse of the state media by ZANU PF and its functionaries.

The critical matter around levelling the Zimbabwe media playing field is removing restrictions on the operations of the media and the enactment of laws and policies that guarantee the independence of the state media.

Those in support on this conference cannot pretend that the state media is under any sort of pressure and that the private media in Zimbabwe is a domineering giant suppressing or misrepresenting the voice of those in government and Zimbabwe. The role of the international media is not a concern to Zimbabweans because we neither own, nor have the power to change, the CNN or BBC.

We can however change our own situation, after all the majority of Zimbabweans get their news locally and would appreciate having more local media. In this regard the conference had to acknowledge that Zimbabwe’s private media is weak and vulnerable and any serious discussion on levelling the playing field would begin with start with the reasons for this and the closure of most of the independent papers in the past decade.

Such a discussion has to start with genuine policy issues around opening the airwaves and guaranteeing the independence of the ZBC so that it can represent all voices. It should also look into the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Media Commission and the Post and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority to see how they constituted and whether they play any meaningful role in advancing media and communication issues.

Media reforms cannot start on or be built on lies that we have regulatory bodies when in fact we have bodies that play a secretarial role to the decisions of politicians.

What did the conference say as an example about the closure of the Daily News, and other newspapers? What did the conference say about the continued detention of journalists? What did the conference say about the biased reporting of Zimpapers publications and ZBC?

It is a shame that the unity government, especially those from the MDC, are being misled and abused in validating ZANU PF’s cover–up conferences without fundamentally looking at what the problems in the media in Zimbabwe are.

The first point of call for a serious media conference is a review of ZANU PF’s media polices;. Once we agree that these need reform, everything else will fall into place and citizens can agree on the media we all want. The failure by the unity government to condemn and do away with laws such as AIPPA and BSA, shows a lack of sincerity.

The media conference should have understood that in this day and age you cannot waste time discussing radio stations that broadcast on shortwave and the internet. Who has control over these and who has the power in Zimbabwe to stop them?

The unity government however has the power to remove AIPPA, license new broadcasters, reform the ZBC and Zimpapers to make them relevant to the needs of the people.

Rashweat Mukundu is a Programme Specialist: Media Monitoring and Research Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Regional Secretariat.