Media laws could be relaxed

President Robert Mugabe, leader of ZANU-PF, and prime minister-designate Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the MDC, and Arthur Mutambara, leader of a smaller MDC faction, are parties to the deal brokered by former South African president Thabo Mbeki.

According to Article 19 of the power-sharing deal: "The parties hereby agree that steps be taken to ensure that the public media provides balanced and fair coverage to all political parties for their legitimate and political activities."

It further states, "The public and private media shall refrain from using abusive language that may incite hostility, political intolerance and ethnic hatred, or unfairly undermines political parties and other organisations."

Lovemore Moyo, an MDC legislator and Speaker of the House of Assembly, said at a media awards ceremony in the capital, Harare, that "Despite the signing of a political agreement by the political parties, we have sections of the public media that continue to report negatively about the opposition leadership."

The National Journalistic and Media Awards (NJAMA) honours journalists from the private, state and "underground" media. "I am sure all of you are aware that the African continent is replete with examples of partisan reporting that has led to conflict and instability," said Moyo, the awards ceremony’s guest of honour.

He told the audience that press controls would be lifted during his term of office. "Government interference in the media should be discouraged, to ensure impartial and accurate reporting.

"Our parliament has, over the years, passed various media laws that have hindered freedom of expression and made it difficult for journalists to operate. As parliament, we stand ready to play our part in the liberalisation of the media, in line with the spirit of the agreement among the political parties."

Since the power-sharing deal was signed, the MDC has continued to be vilified by media columnists, including "Nathaniel Manheru", believed to be a pseudonym for President Robert Mugabe’s spokesman, George Charamba.

MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa said in a statement: "The MDC is calling on all journalists in the country, especially those in the state media, to play a positive role in moving our country forward through assisting national healing and creating hope.

"We note with dismay that the state-controlled media continues with its use of hate speech and propaganda, which flies in the face of the spirit of national engagement and the political settlement in Harare recently.

"The ZBC [Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation] and the [state-controlled] Herald [daily newspaper] continue to give acres of space to analysts who want to poison the spirit of dialogue. The public media should play a pivotal role in healing the nation and give people hope."

Information minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu said he was unaware of any media attacks by the public media on the MDC. "Who has attacked them? I am not aware of any attacks. I would also urge the MDC to be rational and not confrontational when dealing with certain issues. I am sure they wanted to bulldoze their way into the newsrooms, but the editors exercise their independence and neutrality."

Matthew Takaona, president of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, told IRIN: "The inclusion of Article 19 is a reflection and acknowledgement that the media has played a role in fomenting some of the problems facing this country; in particular, promotion of divisions and polarisation through hate speech." (IRIN)