The Chairman of the Zimbabwe Media Commission, Commissioner Godfrey Majonga and other Commissioners here present; the Unesco Representative, Professor Luc Rukingama; representatives of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Media, Information and Communication; the Permanent Secretary for Media, Information and Publicity Cde George Charamba; the Chairman of the Voluntary Media Council Mr Alec Muchadehama; the Chief Executive Officer of the Zimbabwe Media Commission Dr Tafataona Mahoso; all invited guests; ladies and gentlemen; comrades and friends:
I am delighted to be asked to address the 2012 gathering to celebrate World Press Freedom Day at a time when our people have been expecting both a new draft Constitution for Zimbabwe and fresh harmonised elections in the context of our national drive for economic indigenisation and African majority empowerment.
These expectations bring to the fore the question as to how press freedom benefits the people of Zimbabwe. More specifically, how has the exercise and enjoyment of press freedom by the media industry benefited the people and what changes in the national media management system should the people demand from the administration which will emerge out of the next harmonised elections?
While it is up to the sovereign people of Zimbabwe to choose the party or parties which will form the next administration, the recommendations to that new Government as to what changes ought to be made by the next Parliament and Government to the management and enjoyment of press freedom — the nature and quality of such recommendations — will depend largely on the people who are gathered here this morning, my Ministry included.
Searching Questions after a Period of Experimentation
Mr Chairman, the sovereign people of Zimbabwe in whose ballots lies the power to choose the next Government of Zimbabwe are asking serious questions about the experiments and promises of the last five years, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011.
In that period, Parliament demanded and obtained the right to be more directly involved in the following:
- The constitution making and constitution writing process through Copac;
- The selection and nomination of candidates for appointment to the Zimbabwe Media Commission and the elevation of the same from a statutory to a constitutional authority;
- The selection and nomination of candidates for appointment to the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe;
- The selection and nomination of candidates for appointment to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission;
- The selection and nomination of candidates to the Zimbabwe Human Right Commission; and
- The selection and nomination of candidates to the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission.
In demanding and obtaining all these powers, Parliament promised more freedom to the people, including media freedom.
Some of your guests, Mr Chairman, may begin to wonder what all these changes have to do with Press freedom or media freedom. Let me illustrate:
- Copac had a whole Thematic Committee on Media; so it was expected that an objective report would emerge from that Committee on how the people of Zimbabwe want the Press to be owned and governed in Zimbabwe and whether or not the same people were happy with the changes in media regulation made between 2007 and 2010. For instance, is a constitutional ZMC more effective from the point of view of the people than a statutory Media and Information Commission was before these changes?
- The new Zimbabwe Media Commission promised both a more diverse and better self-disciplined print media. Has this promise been met and how do we prove that it has or has not been met?
- The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission promised a more enlightening and fairer coverage of the contest among political parties during elections, the assumption being that the citizens of Zimbabwe would make wiser and more enlightened choices of candidates for political office as a result of the ZEC’s regulatory role during elections. Does the people’s experience of the last three years indicate that public officials elected in 2008 have served the nation better than those chosen in previous elections?
- With the UN Human Rights Council’s inclusion of journalists and mass media among so called human rights defenders, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission as a new creation also promised better protection for the rights of ordinary citizens, including protection from gross abuses of individuals and groups by the Press. Has that expectation been borne out by the people’s actual experience?
- The Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission as a reformed entity also promised swifter and more thorough investigations of allegations of rampant corruption in all sectors and the media sector as well. Has that promise been fulfilled? How do we verify whatever conclusion we need to make?
In addition, it was also clear that behind the sweeping reforms of 2007-2011, there were promises and claims by media associations and activists to put their own house in order by exercising more and better professional responsibility in relation to the general public and in exchange for the relaxation of direct state controls.
This is to say, the public expected the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ), the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ), the Editor’s Forum, the Media Institute for Southern Africa (Misa), and the Voluntary Media Council (VMC) to take on the responsibility to set and enforce professional standards and to discipline all players in the media industry without Government direction or involvement.
If what I am saying is not clear, let me restate: As we go into fresh harmonised elections, the people of Zimbabwe are saying that World Press Freedom Day should include the freedom of the media industry and the journalism profession to develop and enforce stringent professional rules and standards which protect customers from injury and abuse with little or no Government involvement.
If the last five years of change do not show the media industry and the journalism profession to have fulfilled their promises, then the sovereign people of Zimbabwe have no option but to intervene and protect themselves through the instruments of the state, that is to revert to the regulatory regime of 2001-2007.
Any credible administration emerging out of the imminent 2012 elections is bound to deal with these issues based on voter expectations. Some of those expectations were evident during the Copac outreach but they still have not been published.
If what I am saying is still not clear, let me give you examples of how sectors which take their freedoms and responsibilities seriously have performed recently:
If you go to page 4 of The Herald newspaper for Friday, 27 April 2012, you will find a story called “Law Society of Zimbabwe convicts 10 lawyers”. The story opens as follows:
“The Law Society of Zimbabwe Council has this year convicted at least 10 lawyers for offences including abuse of trust funds, tampering with court documents and bringing the profession into disrepute.
“Names of four of the lawyers have since been published. They are among 19 who were not registered to practise (law) this year.
“The Law Society of Zimbabwe will send the papers to the disciplinary tribunal that sits at the High Court. The tribunal will determine, whether the lawyers’ names should be permanently struck off (the register) or they should be spared.”
In other words, we are only at the beginning of the fifth month of the 12-month year and already 10 lawyers have been convicted out of 19 denied registration.
Let me give you another example from two other sectors:
The following examples of enforcement are available as illustrations of attempts to enforce compliance:
“Business Herald, 16 May 2010, “13 insurance firms face the chop.” “More than 13 short-term insurance companies are set to lose operating licences after they failed to meet the minimum capital requirements as prescribed by the Insurance and Pensions Commission (IPEC).”
Business Herald, 30 March 2010, “Nine estate agencies blacklisted.”
“The Estate Agents Council has blacklisted nine estate agencies and ordered them to stop operating forthwith over their failure to comply with regulatory and legal requirements.”
Business Herald, 14 January 2010; “Blitz on unlicenced shops.”
“Business ground to a halt along Kaguvi Street in downtown Harare yesterday as the City of Harare, working with the Zimbabwe Republic Police, closed down unlicenced shops.”
Business Herald, 11 May 2010; “Estate Agents Council vows to bring sanity to property sector.”
“The Estate Agents Council has vowed to forge ahead with the onslaught on errant estate agencies to bring sanity to the property sector amid revelations that the council has so far closed down 20 estate agencies for non-compliance.”
These drastic actions have been taken by self-regulating sectors to protect clients and to protect professions.
Moreover, it is remarkable that Parliament (through Sections 86, 87 and 89 of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act) set up a procedure through which editors should publish apologies, provide retractions and afford complainants space for rebuttals of wrong or incorrect stories without any involvement of the state or the ZMC.
All that is required is for the affected reader to launch a convincing complaint with the media house concerned; and the editor is expected to respond and to comply with the procedure outlined in the Act.
But how many of you have in the last four years seen such apologies, retractions, corrections or rebuttals being readily provided through agreements between editors and their aggrieved readers?
What we have witnessed is a disturbing tendency for the editors to immediately resort to their lawyers to intimidate complainants and force them to give up their complaints. What we have observed is the tendency for editors to ask their lawyers to tell the ZMC their reasons why the ZMC should not attempt to stand for aggrieved readers.
Yet a self-respecting industry and profession really wishing to make a case for professional self-regulation would readily and happily enforce Sections 86, 87 and 89 of the Act without the state or the ZMC having to remind editors or publishers of their obligations to readers.
It is equally remarkable that Section 71, Sub-Section (1) of the same Act allows the ZMC to complain to editors and publishers directly, on its own initiative and in its own name. Yet we have not seen such complaints in the last few years. Does this mean that the Press is working perfectly and the ZMC is perfectly happy with the professional conduct of both journalists and publishers in relation to the public?
Are the media industry and the journalism profession perfectly happy with their own performance in relation to their clients? Why is there such a conspiracy of silence?
What is at issue is the fact that too many journalists, media associations, media houses and media activists are satisfied with making theoretical arguments for self-discipline, self-regulation and professional responsibility for the purpose only of tying the Government’s hands. They do not investigate even reported cases of alleged corruption and citizen abuse by journalists and editors; and they do not carry out any research to prove or disprove their claims. And they resort to their lawyers too often precisely because they can get away with the abuses because conviction in court is difficult to get and trials take too long and are too costly for most clients.
I can assure you that as we go into fresh harmonised elections this year, the people will be asking questions about the alleged benefits of Press freedom to them and about the demonstrable results of all the reforms introduced in the media sector and in related areas since 2007.
Are the benefits only in terms of increased numbers of publishes and broadcasters? Has the quality of public information improved?
The debate over media self-regulation has pretty much run its course and it is now time for reckoning.
For a long time we have been told that South Africa represents the best proof that media self-regulation works best for journalists, media houses and their publics. Yet that is not the case.
What has happened in South Africa is that the ANC has revived a debate which started with publication of the Human Rights Commission of South Africa’s Interim Report of the Inquiry into Racism in the Media published on 21 November 1999.
That report was abandoned at its interim stage because of a massive backlash from a network of some NGOs, whites who controlled universities and colleges and whites who controlled the media.
The ANC is saying that self-regulation has not worked in South Africa precisely because it is the same white racists who dominated media training, media ownership and journalism in 1999 who have also dominated the charade called media self-regulation to this day.
The ANC is proposing a Parliamentary Tribunal to try journalists for gross abuses of Press freedom.
In fact, one submission to the 1999 report said whites in academia and the media believed that it is white people who are qualified to regulate the media for the whole country and on behalf of Africans.
Mr Dimakatso Collin Mashile was reported as alleging that … “The Star’s editorial portrays a colonial/imperial assumption that the majority of people with skills to regulate broadcasting are white. He (Mashile) goes further to state that (democratic) regulation of broadcasting in South Africa is a new concept therefore whites cannot claim to have prior skills which Africans would not have in 1999.”
In the United Kingdom, only yesterday, May 1 2012, a Parliamentary Committee of inquiry into the scandals surrounding Rupert Murdoch’s media empire concluded that the owners and management of Murdoch’s News Corp (including Rupert Murdoch and his son James) were unfit to run a national and international mass media service.
Just as the people of the United Kingdom need the intervention of a public inquiry by Parliament to protect them against the criminal and unprofessional conduct of media owners and editors, I can assure you that in the wake of the forthcoming harmonised elections the people of Zimbabwe will be re-examining all the media reforms made in their name since 2007 and demanding firm protections for their rights and their interests.
Max du Preeze wrote about passage of the Protection of Information Bill through the South African Parliament in November 2011. He said:
“Judged by the bloody-minded mood the ANC was in, we can expect firm moves soon to launch the Media Appeals Tribunal (of Parliament) that would give politicians a say over media. The gloves are now well and truly off.”
I can also predict that if the clearly anti-African and anti-Zimbabwe frenzy we have experienced through some media outlets and platforms in this country continues, and if the conspiracy of silence within the media industry and journalism profession also persists, the gloves may soon be off here as well.
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