The Leveson Inquiry on the phone hacking scandal has been taking place in Court 73 of the Royal Courts of Justice (RCJ) in London. This process has revealed some aspects about the media that are troubling, not only for the British people, but for Zimbabweans as well.
The investigation is on the role of the press and police in the phone-hacking scandal, unearthed on July 13, 2011.
The inquiry is examining the culture, practices and ethics of the media. In particular, Lord Justice Leveson will examine the relationship of the press with the public, police and politicians.
Lord Justice Leveson opened the hearings in November last year, with the English translations of the Latin phrase plucked from Satires of Juvenal: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? or “Who guards the guardians”.
His full statement was: “The press provides an essential check on all aspects of public life. That is why any failure within the media affects all of us. At the heart of this Inquiry, therefore, may be one simple question: who guards the guardians?”
This is an important question.
I have had the occasion to watch former British prime minister Tony Blair questioned and being called a “war criminal” by a protestor. His former spin doctor, Alistair Campbell, has also appeared, so has the current culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt and the business secretary Vince Cable. Former CEO of Rupert Murdoch’s News International, Rebekah Brooke and News of the World former editor, Andy Coulson, also appeared, among many notables in British politics and media.
I watched as these once lofty characters crumble in front of Lord Justice Leveson.
Only yesterday, they appeared part of an untouchable media-industrial complex.
The Leveson Inquiry is a macrocosmic representation of the media—politicians relationship in Zimbabwe. It is also an example of the spectacularly disruptive effect of this relationship, the potential impact of which we are only beginning to comprehend.
As we watch some politicians crumble, mainly those in the former opposition who were eager to rule, there’s only one observation we make: “In politics if you go down you will never quite get back up to where you started.” However, this is not funny. One does not have to be a Marxist determinist to acknowledge that a storm of this sort can spawn disorder, fundamental socio-political realignments, group trauma, and even – as the history of the 20th century shows all too vividly – collective psychosis.
The serrated speeches that characterised opposition politics in the pre-inclusive Government era has died down as the reality of political office sets in.
News International has been at the forefront of a media campaign against Zimbabwe—presenting it as a ‘failed state’, but lacking the analysis that usually accompanies such a characterisation.
The drip-drip disclosure of meetings, contacts and intimacies between politicians and senior News Corp figures points to some undue cosiness between those who claim to further democracy in the name of free speech (the media) and a certain section of political class. We see this in Zimbabwe today.
There are media groups who will use undemocratic, unethical means (as News Corp did by hacking a missing girl’s mobile phone, Milly Dowler) to grab the headlines.
We have seen the so-called independent media in Zimbabwe demonstrate such callous indifference to the feelings of others; ironically in the name of democracy—calling for sanctions against Zimbabwe, the death of political leaders, etc.
Yet they present themselves as the champions of democracy and human rights—terms which have lost their meaning in the current cesspool of online and independent journalism in Zimbabwe.
This would be laughable had the cock-up not been so tragic. Politicians who purport to fight for democracy in Zimbabwe have formed this inextricable link with these ‘media organisations’ dulling their political antennae.
Together, these politicians and these shallow media organisations comment on issues that are well above their depth, making a mockery of themselves.
It is tempting to say that this is a partnership afflicted by cock-up rather than conspiracy— tempting, but too glib.
The trouble is that when cock-ups proliferate, as they have, bountifully, since the formation of the inclusive Government, the public imposes an order upon them and detects shoddy motives and shady dealings in all the mayhem.
Incompetence is the Rorschach test of politics: we see in it what we want to see. The voters may not be following every detail of proceedings in the inclusive Government, but, as the political process becomes so muddied and muddled up, what is left of their respect for politicians – pitifully little already – will be eroded into nothingness.
It is an important civic duty to comment on one’s country’s politics; not an onerous one for that matter. But it is even more important to do so with some dignity and not on behalf of someone far away from your country, unaffected daily decisions. It is important not to do anyone’s bidding, but your country’s and your people’s.
The truth is that certain politicians and certain sections of the (so-called independent) media today do not understand their role, nor their agenda. This is because it is not their agenda, but someone else’s.
The tragedy, for example, for a party like the MDC-T is that it has failed to shake the charge that its leadership, dares not sneeze without the permission of a group of politicians across the Atlantic. They should persuade the rest of us—that they are not, and have never been, western stooges. No easy task.
A length of barbed wire, rusted through with distrust and perhaps irreparable contempt, is what is left between the Zimbabwean online independent media (and the growing pool of amateur politicians) and the people of Zimbabwe.
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