By Takura Zhangazha*
Over a fortnight ago the Information and Media Panel of Inquiry (IMPI) presented its report on the state of the media in Zimbabwe to the Ministry of Media, Information and Broadcasting Services. The report is also available to the public. It has however not been the subject of broader debate let alone serialized by the mainstream media whose key challenges it seeks to address.
The reasons for this rather muted reception from the media is a reflection of the possibility that the media probably does not feel it owns the report let alone regard it with what should be a requisite seriousness. Or as the Chairman of IMPI, Mr. Geoffrey Nyarota implies in the introductory statement of the report, the initial disagreements of panelists and negative perceptions may have made its final product less popular with the media.
It is however government that is now the key player in making the report important even though it has no legal obligation to accept the recommendations that are being proffered.
What is also apparent is that the IMPI report is not groundbreaking. The issues it identifies have been known for a while now by media stakeholders. Other reports/surveys have also been conducted on the media on a nationwide scale. These would include that done by the then Media and Information Commission at least a decade ago.
The difference with this report is that it has an array of themes that are at times crosscutting but less about the state/government control of the media and more about the media itself.
There are seven thematic areas that were covered by IMPI. These are, Media as Business (including new media); Information Platforms and Content of Media Products; Polarisation, Perception and Interference; Media Training, Capacity and Ethics; Gender Advocacy and Marginalised Groups; Employment Opportunities and Conditions of Service; Media Law Reform and Access to Information.
Each of these themes are narrated in relation to some theoretical grounding, outlines of feedback from members of the public, quantitative assessments, regional examples and finally each thematic committee’s recommendations.
The final chapter is perhaps the most important in that it consolidates all of these recommendations. Key among these is changing the training curriculum for journalists to include the requirement of a first degree for one to be enrolled at a proposed school of journalism.
Furthermore, it is proposed that there be a legal code of conduct for journalists over and above the current voluntary one but with non-criminal consequences. This recommendation is further augmented by the proposition that the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) be repealed.
In relation to the broadcasting, the consolidated recommendations are that there should be at least legal convergence with the regulation of telecommunications and that there be established a national film board to increase content production capacity.
There are other recommendations that relate to the creation of a national employment council for journalists, working towards 50-50 gender representation in newsrooms and eliminating gender discrimination, acquiring tax concessions and loans for media houses, defining community radio stations much more clearly at law, amending cyber laws and expanding the reach of mobile telephony among other recommendations.
These are however not new issues to be raised by media stakeholders. They have been expressed via many media organizations over prolonged periods of time. The reasons why they have not been achieved/implemented is due to one common denominator, the intransigence of government, a point that IMPI does not directly mention as a key cause for the stagnation of the media.
The reality is that for all its controversies and claim at success, the IMPI report will rely on the benevolence of government for its recommendations to be made practical. That the Zimbabwe Media Commission was not directly involved in this process may prove this latter point to be salient. Unless of course it is arm-twisted, by government, into accepting the findings of IMPI. Either way, the future of the media is in the hands of government than it is in its own. And this is a worrying development.
Zimbabwe’s media must establish its own way forward in a much more holistic fashion than that of IMPI. Waiting on government to act helps but in the case of as important an aspect as the media, it will not be adequate. If anything the media needs to act much more concertedly to safeguard its independence and to prevent government from using this controversial and now muted IMPI process to seek greater control of how the media functions in our society.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)