“Even though the tongue is just but a little member and boasts great things, see how great a forest a little fire kindles. And the tongue is a fire and a world’s iniquity…..The tongue can defy the whole body and set on fire the course of nature” James 3 verse 5-7)
The above biblical quotations reveal the power of the word in making or unmaking a nation, the capacity of speech to heal or injure the fabric of society and to forge or break human relationships on the anvil of the most dangerous body part of our time: the tongue.
In Zimbabwe today, the media, particularly the public media, have a critical role to play in healing the nation and giving Zimbabweans every reason to hope again.
As a society, we have been traumatized and lived long in an atmosphere of violence and intolerance; a cauldron of suspicion and hate and a dark and deep fog which has blurred us from the bright and inviting future that beckons in the horizon.
Last Tuesday was Press Freedom Day and it was a day we ought to have reflected and taken stock of the role of the Press, particularly its freedom or lack thereof, as the country lurches towards yet another election whose date is yet to be decided.
As a former journalist and former secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, my heart bleeds upon the repression of the media in this country epitomized by the burning of independent newspapers and the recent raid and cannibalisation of computers at the Newsday offices in Harare’s Union Avenue.
It bleeds over our failure to bring new broadcasting players and the nauseating, shameful and shrill denials by the responsible ministry last week to implement that agreed section of the roadmap.
Minister Webster Shamu’s pre-emptive refusal to implement wholesale media reforms as agreed in the latest round of negotiations betrayed the real power behind stalled media reforms in the country. When juniors write scripts for their ministers, their diction will betray them.
It was obvious “Nathaniel Manheru” had once again delegated upwards and Shamu was merely a spokesperson of the ministry’s most famous media predator!
Since the formation of the inclusive government in February 2008, notwithstanding the overwhelming people’s verdict in support of Morgan Tsvangirai as the leader of Zimbabwe, the people of this country chose to open a new chapter of inclusivity and togetherness.
It was possible, so the new political set-up told us, to differ with dignity and to respect the political diversity that has become the reality of our time.
Contrary to the provisions of Article 19 of the GPA, the major national disappointment has been the public media and their propensity to malign and the willingness to play megaphone to hate speech against everyone and anyone who is not Zanu PF, particularly the person and office of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
Acres of overtly partisan opinion pieces, defamatory stories where the victims of hate speech are never given the chance to defend themselves stand testimony to the poisonous, corrosive and divisive journalism now practiced at the state print media and the “public” broadcaster, the ZBC.
I have argued in some circles that referring to the ZBC as a broadcaster is in itself a misnomer and an exercise in self-delusion.
The ZBC does not “broad”cast. It “narrow”-casts propaganda in the interest of a minority that lost a credible election in March 2008.
In December, the ZBC broadcast live the Zanu PF congress in Mutare but ignored a similar occasion held in Bulawayo over the weekend by the biggest political party in the inclusive government.
Seventeen years ago, I was a young intern at Zimpapers and worked with what was then a very professional team at The Sunday Mail.
Today, it is a completely different institution which publishes incessant and unrelenting hate speech, including divisive and defamatory articles penned by one Tafataona Mahoso.
Ironically, Mahoso is the chief executive of the Zimbabwe Media Commission one of whose roles includes protecting the people against hate speech.
In a circus that can only be found in Zimbabwe, Mahoso also doubles up as chairperson of the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe. The two media institutions share a floor in the same building and Mahoso is chief executive to one and board chairperson to the other!!
I am reliably told that five months ago, the ZMC asked its chief executive to write a letter to BAZ to inquire why they were not giving broadcasting licenses to new players as dictated by Article 19 of the GPA.
The letter is yet to be written. The irony was lost on the esteemed commissioners of the ZMC that they were asking Cde Mahoso to write a letter to himself!!
The public media have simply failed to toe the middle line.
They have failed to celebrate our political, tribal, religious and racial diversity in pursuit of parochial interests of one political party and one political leader.
Our public media have become a collective national shame; a platform where hate and unbridled propaganda have found purchase and lies and perfidy peddled as fact.
Where the nation is incited to hate popularly elected national leaders and where winners of a free and fair election are perpetually portrayed as traitors and puppets.
Our public media have failed to ignite productive national discourse, choosing instead to pursue with gusto a doomed mission to malign and soil the image of Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC and anyone pursuing an agenda that is in the national interest.
The public media in this country have created platforms of hate over platforms of love, division over unity and violence over peace.
A daily state newspaper has become the latter day Judas Iscariot, betraying all values and ethics of journalism in pursuit of ephemeral political interests that are far much smaller than the national interest.
Our public media have allowed themselves to be purveyors and platforms of abuse by renowned enemies of press freedom.
One George Charamba, purportedly the spokesperson of the inclusive government as Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Information, has mischievously chosen to prioritise his other hat as Presidential spokesperson, thereby confusing the views of an inclusive government of tripartite players with the views of the President.
The apparent conflict of interest arising out of Charamba’s two jobs is a pending GPA matter, and that is why his case is one of the 24 agreed issues awaiting implementation. It is only prudent that Charamba ceases to speak about the GPA because he is an interested party.
When it comes to the GPA, Charamba ceases be a persona. He is an outstanding GPA issue that has been resolved but awaits implementation.
As for Jonathan Moyo, the less said about him the better. Zimbabwe’s most celebrated political turncoat has turned The Sunday Mail into a personal platform to malign and tarnish other people, especially the popularly elected Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, the Rt Hon. Morgan Tsvangirai.
Moyo is a politician of promiscuous disposition and he can never masquerade as a man standing on high moral ground. He is a serial political philanderer who has turned the platforms accorded to him by Zimpapers and the ZBC into relevance-seeking and atonement spaces of reassuring suspicious comrades that he is truly and finally back in the fold!
Only recently, he was accusing the Prime Minister of betraying the people of Zimbabwe.
But real betrayal is what he did to the people of Tsholotsho North who voted him as an independent candidate.
When the demon of political harlotry gripped him — as it so often does — he abandoned his voters and rejoined Zanu PF, a party the people of Tsholotsho had rejected when they had the opportunity of voting for it in March 2008.
Like Jonah, his biblical namesake, he chose not to go to Niniveh and opted for Tarshish (Zanu PF) where his voting masters never sent him.
This is the turncoat who has colonised our public media of late, riding roughshod over everyone like a Colossus and clearly unashamed of his reputation as the unparalleled goon of loose political morals in Zimbabwe.
One hopes that on Press Freedom Day, media houses, particularly the public media and its hacks, engaged in serious introspection on whether they are serving the national interest.
Rwanda remains a case in point of what reckless journalism can do to a country in a delicate transition.
In Zimbabwe, the public media have been at the forefront of fanning hatred and inciting violence against the people of Zimbabwe. They played a big role in cheering the State-sponsored violence of 2008 and celebrating the spilling of blood of fellow countrymen who had opted to vote for change.
When the media decide to carry blood-soaked politics on their back, they soil themselves in the process and cannot surely complain when the spectre of justice chooses to pursue them at some point in history.
In fact, Zimpapers and the ZBC must be asking themselves why they found their way in the Sadc Troika Organ communiqué of 31 March 2011.
Or maybe they hadn’t noticed?
Luke Tamborinyoka is the spokesperson for Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. This article was originally published in The Daily News. He can be contacted at email@example.com