Editor’s Memo

Jokonya postures about need for press freedom
Vincent Kahiya


LAST month I wrote in an editorial that the real test of Tichaona Jokonya’s credentials as a progressive Information minister rested in his handling of the Associated Newspapers of Zimb

abwe (ANZ)’s application for a licence to reopen the closed Daily News and the Daily News on Sunday.

The jury was not out for long before coming back time with a verdict. Jokonya appears to have been railroaded to walk the same path as his predecessor, the butcher of the media, Jonathan Moyo.
 
Jokonya, in an affidavit filed in the High Court two weeks ago, said he had confidence in the Media and Information Commission (MIC) despite a High Court judge’s assertions that that statutory body, especially its head Tafataona Mahoso, was tainted with bias in deciding the registration of the ANZ.

Jokonya said dissolving the commission “would set a bad precedent as it would mean that whenever a commission is accused of bias, it would have to be dissolved”.

Jokonya also raised another technicality in defence of the Mahoso regime at the commission. He said there was a no provision in the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa) for him to appoint an ad hoc committee to deal with the ANZ registration even though the MIC had shown demonstrable bias in handling the application.

How convenient?

Jokonya would rather keep the biased commission because he is powerless to dissolve it. He does not have the powers to dissolve the commission because Aippa, which he has always told us is a good law, is silent on what the minister can do in the current impasse. He said in the affidavit that the “way forward” would be to amend Aippa “to provide me with powers to appoint an ad hoc committee…”

It is ironic that despite the vast powers bestowed on the minister to appoint the commission, which is answerable to him and not parliament, he is still incapacitated to deal with the body even when it takes obtuse decisions.

But for a minister who in December last year branded journalists working in the private media “character assassins, malinformants to the point of having become embedded warmongers or… weapons of mass destruction” (straight from Moyo’s book of insults), the omission in Aippa could not be bad after all.

Jokonya’s statement was a departure from his jolly-good-fellow face he showed us at the historic meeting at his Munhumutapa offices last year. The gullible among us thought that the evil veil of the Moyo era had been lifted by the coming in of the ambassador. But the corrosive statement by the end of the year confirmed my worst fears.
 
Jokonya could be caught in the same rut of bias against the privately owned press as Mahoso who in the last edition of the Sunday Mail described the Zimbabwe Independent as “one of the few racist papers in the region”.

He obviously took exception to our plucked rooster! And this coming from a man vested with quasi-judicial powers discloses a dangerous partiality which should disable him from being a fair superintendent of the media industry.

More dangerously, Jokonya says he still has confidence in Mahoso’s commission.

When he took office last year, Jokonya gave the impression that he would behave differently from Moyo who is credited with crafting laws unfriendly to the media and the arbitrary arrest of journalists. He invited recommendations from the media on possible amendments to Aippa and appeared to entertain journalists proposing the setting up of a voluntary media council.

But only a fortnight ago he told journalists from Indonesia that there was nothing draconian about Aippa compared to the US’s Patriot Act.

That is the best he can do in defence of this egregious law! We have in the past heard lame attempts to compare Aippa to Swedish media laws. The Swedish ambassador has managed to demonstrate that this is tantamount to comparing chalk and cheese.

“There has never been an agenda in Sweden to shut down newspapers, big or small because they cannot raise the required capital to publish nor the simple reason that they have changed shareholding structures without informing the government or a quasi-governmental department,” he said in an interview with the Standard recently.

What do Jokonya and Mahoso have to say to this?