MUCKRACKER: Beating journalists not best way to win friends

The episode last Friday at Harvest House in which Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s security personnel attacked a journalist from this newspaper, Herbert Moyo, comes as no surprise to us.

By Muckracker

The assault came after another journalist, Mashudu Netsianga from the Chronicle, was manhandled in Bulawayo at a meeting between Tsvangirai and Bulawayo businesspeople. They confiscated his notebook and mobile phone.

Moyo was guilty of nothing more than covering a demonstration by MDC-T activists from Sunningdale. He was dragged into a room at Harvest House and severely beaten despite identifying himself as a journalist.

Daily criticism

There is a context to this. Tsvangirai had earlier at a policy conference in Bulawayo expressed frustration with daily press criticism of him. This could not be tolerated in a democracy, he averred.

We can understand this. The daily denunciation of Tsvangirai is part of a calculated and malevolent campaign directed by senior politburo members. It is personal and often poisonous.

But in excoriating the press, Tsvangirai is often the author of his own discomfort. He declined the opportunity to address the issue of media reform at the outset of the Government of National Unity (GNU). It was specified as a key item in the Global Political Agreement. And he has in the past suggested the private media is just as “bad” as the public media. As a result of this omission, the country continued to experience a partisan and unprofessional press where professionalism and diversity were urgently needed.

Failure to get this right at the outset led to the now daily attacks on Tsvangirai by a multitude of players who seek to block reform, or indeed a Tsvangirai victory at the polls.

Tsvangirai is a courageous leader who has suffered all manner of assaults over the years. But he has not listened to the press and therefore not learnt from it. Beating up journalists is not the best way to win friends and influence people.

Dangerous belief

And the MDC-T generally should abandon the mentality that we as a nation owe them a living. There is a dangerous belief now developing that an MDC-T government will be no better than the current band of tyrants when they get the opportunity.

It is said of a country that it gets the press it deserves.

Friday’s episode underlines this.

Abuse of the media is not confined to the MDC-T. Last Thursday Zanu PF national chairperson Simon Khaya Moyo (SK) said the current crop of journalists had become “weapons of destruction”. He said in some quarters the noble profession of journalism was being used for a regime change agenda.

He made these remarks at a surprise birthday party held for Media, Information and Publicity minister Webster Shamu at a city hotel.

Noble profession

Moyo also commended Shamu for being an accomplished professional journalist trained to know that journalism is a noble profession.

Moyo said there was no doubt that President Robert Mugabe saw Cde Shamu’s “exceptional professionalism and charisma …”. That includes, we suppose, not lifting a finger to reconstitute the boards of the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation and Zimbabwe Mass Media Trust when instructed to do so.

We also thought somewhere in Moyo’s hagiographical account there might be some mention of Cde Shamu’s illustrious career as an RBC DJ!
Judging by the size of SK and other luminaries present around the cake, it is a career in politics that truly builds you up.

Chronic amateurism

Meanwhile, let’s hope Shamu devotes some energy to creating conditions for the safe return of Zimbabwean journalists based abroad. This appears to be another media reform issue which should have been addressed at the beginning of the GNU.

External broadcasters cannot be expected to return so long as ministers do nothing to create a climate conducive to reform or provide opportunities for media workers to practise their skills here at home.

Broadcasters cannot be expected to seek work in a country where they are not free to express themselves or where chronic amateurism is the order of the day. Any ZBC-TV panel discussion or radio news transmission provides good examples of how radio or television stations should not be run.

Has any ZBC or ZBC-TV staff been to South Africa where they can see how it is done? SABC may be terrible, but there are plenty of alternative stations. Or are they content to remain stuck in a turgid and boring career with no competition to speak of? Just one name illustrates this dilemma: Tafataona Mahoso, Zimbabwe Media Commission chief executive.

Never sulk

In Britain and the US where broadcasters are free to express a variety of views politicians know they should never make war on the press. Whatever the grievance, they must pretend not to be offended and carry on without rancour. We need to do that here.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and ICT minister Nelson Chamisa must never sulk or display pique. They don’t have to like what this or that paper says or what the radio and TV says. They will never like it at all in the democracy Tsvangirai referred to, but they must smile and take it on the chin.

The winner is the guy who can walk out of a press conference feeling good because he treated his questioners fairly.

On this point, have you noticed how the president of the US at a press conference calls out journalists who have their hands up by their first names? Can you imagine such a thing here?

We do recall, however, how Mugabe, at a press conference, asked where all the white reporters were? George Charamba popped up to say they had been invited, but didn’t come.

What mendacity!

Ingratiating Dali

Still with the media, Muckraker is not one of those patting Dali Tambo on the back. His interview was ingratiating and lacked challenging questions. Luckily, the South African audience did not think he did a good job either. They know a soft soap when they see one!

Zinara losing

The Zimbabwe National Road Administration (Zinara) are not doing much to enhance their income. A friend passing through the Lion’s Den tollgate recently heading towards Harare was confronted by an official who didn’t have change for US$20, or so she said.

“Don’t worry about it, pay us when you come back through,” she said.

Just imagine all those vehicles passing through every day and she didn’t have change for US$20! All she had to do was ask a colleague for help. But that required getting off her chair. How much did Zinara lose that day, we wonder.

We don’t know who is responsible for this operation, but a colleague points out that if certain ministers are involved, it is likely to cost the nation dearly. For instance, the 15km of the airport road that is under construction will cost US$70 million. And there is still no road to speak of.

Compare this with the Hartley Platinum Mine road just outside Chegutu. This private sector undertaking cost US$15 million for 25km of road. And it shows!
A South African company, Big Five, is working on the Harare-Bulawayo Road. Again, you can actually see the road.

Calm down, Zvayi

Finally, could somebody please explain to Caesar Zvayi that court challenges, far from being frivolous and vexatious, are fundamentally a part of the democratic process. They don’t require malevolent attacks on the applicants in such cases, especially if, as we are told, the applications don’t stand much chance of success.

Zvayi should follow the cases passing through the South African courts on a regular basis. The ANC is quick to recognise the importance of embracing appeals even when the government loses.

Zvayi and his colleagues at the Herald should understand that by denouncing applicants as “finding legal excuses to file frivolous and vexatious applications” in the courts, they are prejudicing the whole constitutional process.

Is that really in the interests of democratic due process? The new constitution, by providing a constitutional court, does in fact provide for appeal.

Zvayi and Co should calm down and live with the new realities unless they want the public to think the courts are unhelpful places.

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