Mhike said there was more risk in journalists boycotting the process than taking part and continue to push for self regulation from within.
“We must consider the effectiveness of our past strategies as an industry and also to focus the effectiveness of whatever we are going to adopt as an industry,” he said.
Mhike was one of the panelists at the Quill Club – Harare’s press club – on Wednesday evening during a discussion by Harare journalists which was called to probe the pros and cons of taking part in the envisaged ZMC.
“We could adopt the strategy of completely boycotting the ZMC or saying we will go in and try to influence what happens from within,” he said.
Media Institute of Southern Africa – Zimbabwe Chapter has already said it is now pinning its hopes on the proposed constitutional changes to ensure a self regulatory media body. It said it was viewing current processes as a temporary arrangement.
“In the latter scenario, we can say if it does not work out, then those members whom we interact with will resign or protest from inside and therefore create a constitutional crisis," said Mhike. “We should not be too rigid about our positions. Let us look at the opportunities that lie in the ZMC.”
Mhike, a Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ) board member, said a struggle that is waged within is more likely to emerge with better yields than one waged from outside.
Zimbabwean journalists are agonizing on whether to take part in the proposed Zimbabwe Media Commission or simply abandon the process to push for self regulation.
Aspiring commissioners to the ZMC have up to this Friday to submit their applications to the Parliamentary Standing Rules and Orders Committee, which would then submit a 12 nominees to President Robert Mugabe, who will appoint nine of the members to the final ZMC board.
The ZMC, which replaces the now legally defunct Media and Information Commission (MIC), is supposed to last the lifespan of the coalition government by President Mugabe’s Zanu PF and the two Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) parties.
Whereas journalists were justified in doubting the sincerity of government in initiating media reform through the ZMC, Mhike said, journalists could draw lessons from the MDC scenario.
Then in opposition politics, the MDC which was in 2007 faced with the invidious task of supporting a government sponsored Constitutional Amendment (No. 19) whose outcome, although negligible, opened up some electoral space and allowed it to almost gain autonomous control of government in the March 2008 elections.
While taking comfort in that they were not the only fraternity in Zimbabwe that is agonizing on whether to take part in a process that is driven by government, journalists should draw lessons from the Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ) scenario in which the company’s flagship, the Daily News chose not to accredit with the MIC and went on to lose its space on the local media landscape.
“You can see the wisdom of registering or not when you look at the 2002 scenario where some newspapers registered while there other (Daily News) did not. What is clear is that notwithstanding what journalists wish, there shall be a ZMC that shall run the affairs of journalists," he said, "The commission will preside on the affairs of the media whether you want or not.”
On the other hand, Mhike said, reform minded journalists were justified in their desire to boycott the process.
“We have all seen in recent history of Zimbabwe how State regulation has been used by the State to clamp down on the media,” he said.
“Before the enactment of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the media operated without any incidents of arrests of journalists and closure of newspapers.“
"The media industry is dynamic. When it is regulated by way of legislation, it would be very difficult to then adjust the regulatory provisions in line with the changes that have occurred in the media industry. To change a law is a cumbersome process that has to go through parliament whereas self regulation of the law making process.”