Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Professor Moyo's ambiguous carrot (and suspended stick) to Zimbabwe's Media.


By Takura Zhangazha*

The new Minister of Media, Information and Broadcasting Services, Professor Jonathan Moyo together with  his deputy Hon. Super Mandiwanzira appear to have come good on their promise to ‘hit the ground running’. Apart from calling meetings with a diverse spectrum of media and media related stakeholders in Harare and Bulawayo in the last month or so, they have kept themselves quite busy touring media operations and meeting media players from both the private/state sectors.

This cannot be faulted. In fact it is to be expected. Most new, re-assigned or re-appointed cabinet ministers are either on some sort of national/local tour of facilities or persons that they believe to be within their ministerial purview. And it helps to be seen to be getting off on a good and consultative initial footing. The same said ‘good footing’ departure also has an unfortunate tendency to cloud real issues in benevolent camaraderie.

And if stakeholders take this camaraderie as opportunities for policy reform , they must also be mindful of the fact that, after all the hugs and kisses, this newfound relationship with victorious single ruling party policymakers remains one premised on the latter’s benevolence as opposed to common democratic principles and values.  In other words, they do not have to meet media stakeholders. But they would like to. In part to listen to them, but largely to ‘consultatively’  co-opt them into frameworks that they will inevitably not be able to democratically participate in or influence.

Be that as it may and as various media organizations have indicated, engagement with the slightly changed (by way of name) Ministry of Media, Information and Broadcasting Services (MMIBS) is as necessary as it must be cautious. ‘Necessary’ because one can only lobby a sitting government of the day for immediate policy changes.  ‘Cautious’ because of the general historical tendency of MMIBS and its predecessor titles to act as undemocratic gatekeepers of freedom of expression and media freedom in Zimbabwe.

It is the media matters on which to engage the MMIBS that I would like to focus on. The first issue that must be apparent in engaging the media ministry stems from its interpretation of the constitution. Professor Moyo has already argued that he views Section 3 of the new constitution which has  provision for the upholding of the values of the liberation struggle as perhaps the most important.  It would therefore appear that for the minister this is the particular section through which all others sections such as Section 61 on freedom of expression must also be interpreted.  

While it is a matter of either taking the matter to the Constitutional Court as well as subject to the interpretive actions of the MMIBS,  I doubt if anyone fundamentally disagrees with section 3 as written. The somewhat stern reminder by the Honourable Minister of its existence (in part response to a Media Alliance of Zimbabwe statement) is more a drawing of the boundaries than an addition to the debate.

A better  departure point to these matters of interpretation would be to at least find emphasis in the universality of these rights for all Zimbabweans, regardless of our varying  interpretations of  them, while leaving it up to the Constitutional Court to decide on final interpretation, if the need arises. So as it is, while the MMIBS may have its own views, it must respect the right of stakeholders to have and enjoy differing perceptions of the same in terms of Section 61 of the constitution.

Secondly, in parts of the interactions I attended at the behest of the MMIBS, the Permanent Secretary, Mr. Charamba emphasized a plethora of points. One that seemed to be apparent and probably explained the multi-sector attendees of the meeting, was what he referred to as intending to turn the media into or to at least treat it like an ‘industry’. It points to an intention by MMIBS to view the media as a key sector of the national economy and treat it as such. (And this may also explain why a number participants made reference to the importance of indigenisation and economic empowerment).

It is important that the media always be viewed from the perspective of its ability to contribute to employment creation, foreign direct investment, technology/ knowledge transfers and communication for development.  Such a perspective however should not subsume the media to the motive of profit at the expense (quite literally) of the right of all Zimbabweans to receive, impart and access a diversity of opinions. 

So it may be commendable that the MMIBS intends to embark on this 'industrialisation' of the media course but it must not exchange principles of media freedom, freedom of expression and access to information for profit. Neither must it present cross media ownership/ monopolies as if they represent diversity.  Especially if they supposedly make a profit. Furthermore, there is need to balance the matter of industry and profit at the state funded and controlled broadcaster ZBC with the issue of public service information  broadcasting that recognizes all the country’s diverse views and does not substitute those with propaganda for (political) profit purposes.

It could all begin with Mr. Charamba asking his  principal to debate in cabinet how the cumbersome multi-layer regulatory systems for media players across the technological divide hurts both MMIBS’ envisaged ‘media  industry’ as well as the right of all Zimbabweans to receive and impart information. All in terms of structure, levies, cross-monitoring, ICT multiple supervision and registration, multiple levy payments and downright red tape media management as embodied by constitutional and statutory bodies such as the Zimbabwe Media Commission, the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe, the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe, the sister Ministry of ICT, Courier and Postal Services as well as other arms of the government that rely on POSA, AIPPA to stifle media freedom and sustainability.


A final point that I must mention is that when the Deputy Minister, Hon. Mandiwanzira states how he views his new role as being to serve everyone, including media players who at one point may have referred to him as a Zanu Pf apologist. This is all well and good if it were less a political point. Bygones must indeed be bygones. Not, however for the convenience of the political moment of appointment, but for the articulation of a shared vision that is less about the cameras, and more about the achievement of expanding freedom of expression, media freedom and access to information for all Zimbabweans. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity. If you decide to use this blogpost please acknowedge that you got it from takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com