Information minister Christopher Mushohwe’s visit to our offices this week helped to amplify his government’s newfound vocation to suppress the media through a combination of threats, intimidation and harassment.
While we are happy that the minister afforded us the opportunity to exchange notes, given that dialogue is important, it’s saddening to note that he also used the visit to warn the media not to report national security issues. He darkly repeated an earlier pronouncement likening the media’s reporting of military issues to venturing into a crocodile-infested pool.
He believes that the government can whip journalists into line and cow inquisitive scribes into lap dogs that celebrate the failures that have become too apparent to conceal.
Mushohwe’s threat should not be taken lightly as journalists from the Zimpapers stable and from our sister paper NewsDay have been arrested, detained in police cells and taken to court in handcuffs. The common thread in the stories published by both sets of reporters was the involvement of the security sector. Our rulers are, in this day and age, not ashamed of this infamy which is couched in simplistic dogmas that the security is a no-go area for the media.
There is no better illustration of regression into yesteryear media repression than this.
We view Mushohwe’s pronouncements — which he tries to pass as “advice” to the media — as deliberate government policy to revise an earlier position by former information minister Jonathan Moyo that journalists should not be arrested. But we need to know what parameters define the bounds of security matters. Clarity is very important in the Zimbabwean context where men and women in uniform have failed to separate their mandate from party politics.
Many in the security establishment in this country are joined to Zanu PF at the hip. They have actively campaigned for Zanu PF and threatened President Mugabe’s political rivals, even to the extent of making veiled coup threats. Their conduct has invited the media to shine a light into the dark recesses of their lives.
There is genuine public interest in many aspects of the security establishment and media will continue to report on these issues. The media are not asking the security to open doors to their arsenals or to give minutes of closed meetings. But we need to know how scarce state resources are being employed in buying vehicles. We need to tell the story of traffic fines. How is this money collected on the streets utilised? We need the public to know about the myriad of companies run by the security sector. Is it a threat to national security to report on suspected nefarious activities like poaching and illegal mining by security personnel?
Mushohwe and his colleagues must be made to understand that the biggest threat to national security is not media reportage but hunger, poverty and unemployment caused by years of Zanu PF’s misrule.
Mushowe needs to know that military generals, who make coup threats, openly declare their loyalty and campaign for a party while being active participants in factional party politics are a security threat. That’s a fact!