Editor’s Memo

Moving up

THE Committee to Protect Journalists in New York recently reported that Zimbabwe was one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists.



=”Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif”>As you may have gathered from reading the official press, the Zimbabwe Independent now stands in the government’s line of fire as our increasingly paranoid rulers attempt to silence all voices other than their own. This is quite evidently part of a wider plan to close democratic space.


Firstly the Daily News and its stablemate the Daily News On Sunday were shut down for providing an alternative view to the ruling party’s stale and deceitful mouthpieces. The Daily News was manifestly more popular than the Herald and everybody – including the Department of Information – knew it. Their mistake was to exercise their constitutional right to challenge Aippa in the courts.


Then, last month, the Media and Information Commission, the government’s chosen instrument in suppressing the independent media, moved against the Tribune on the spurious grounds that it had not been informed about changes in ownership.


In fact we can be sure that its publisher’s maiden speech to parliament in which he committed the heresy of criticising Aippa and the Broadcasting Services Act was the most likely reason for the paper’s suspension. That and a growing obsession generally about the free flow of information which exposes official claims such as those of “bumper harvests” as nothing more than shameless deception.


Now that three newspapers have been effectively silenced – at least for the time being – the heat is being turned up on us. I am not referring here to the puerile abuse heaped upon myself and my colleagues by what Vice-President Msika aptly called “immoral little boys”.


Their long-winded essays, replete with threats and clumsy innuendo, are passed by us to visiting journalists who ask if they can have photocopies to entertain their colleagues back home!


More sinister is the persistent harassment by the Media and Information Commission which appears to be ignorant of elementary facts about newspapers in the region. Its chairman, Tafataona Mahoso, for instance thinks the Mail & Guardian has a “foreign desk”.


The Sunday Times has a foreign desk. So does the (South African) Independent Newspapers Group. But not a small paper like the M&G – at least not just yet!


In addition to knowing very little about the operations of newspapers, one of the MIC’s main flaws is the way it is constituted. Representatives of journalists’ associations and publishers are supposed to be included on it.


I am not aware of any process by which journalists were consulted as to who their representatives should be, other than a letter written by the President’s Office to Mathew Takaona. ADMA represents media houses but the government claims there is no association of publishers as such.


This has occasioned an amendment to Aippa designed to fill these holes. Whether this panel-beating will save Aippa from its pending constitutional appeal remains to be seen.


What we do know is that laws of this sort have no place in a democracy.

When the government of Sweden recently invited a group of journalists to Stockholm to see whether Mahoso’s claim that Sweden’s press laws were even more stringent than our own, the Department of Information reportedly stepped in to forbid state journalists from participating.


In other words they were prevented from seeing for themselves whether official claims were true. Those who did make the trip quickly discovered they weren’t. Sweden has no curbs on press freedom. Nothing like Aippa exists.


There is one silver lining in this cloud of political repression. It is a tribute to the staff of the Independent that it is the main target of the state’s wrath. That means we are making a difference – apart of course from making them as mad as hell!


Earlier this year I proposed to our publishers a reorganisation of staff that would allow me more time to think “strategically”. As we remain only one of three independent newspapers still on the market – the others of course being the Standard and the Financial Gazette – it is important that we utilise our resources to maximum effect and give readers our best shot. We are keenly aware for instance of the need to beef up weekend reading, to provide more entertainment and travel news, and perhaps even restore our eating out column.


We are also keen to give our reporters a chance to prove themselves as managers. Vincent Kahiya, for instance, has proved a tireless news editor who, while writing his own stories, has kept a watchful eye on those of others. Reporters taking short cuts have difficulty getting past him. His boundless energy and commitment to the paper deserve recognition. He moves up to Editor as from yesterday.


Dumisani Muleya is without doubt the best political reporter on the market. His stories – encompassing diplomacy, politics, and banking – have recently received recognition at an awards ceremony in London. Constantly on top of the political scene with a mastery of complex detail, his advice to me as editor has been invaluable.

Dumisani becomes News Editor.


Ngoni Chanakira is a veteran of the business desk and has a prodigious output of stories. He manages to attend meetings, do interviews and motivate colleagues without any loss of stamina. He becomes Business Editor. He is joined at the business desk by Conrad Dube who returns to us after an absence of a year. He is a promising business reporter who has a nose for news and good writing skills.


Finally, Darlington Majonga joins us as a sub-editor (features). He will join Teldah Mawarire and Oliver Shambira in producing our supplements and weekend features.


Joram Nyathi, who has been our literary anchor since the newspaper’s inception in 1996, remains in charge of the production process but moves up to Deputy Editor. If you hear the crack of a whip, it is his.


Meanwhile, I have joined our very able management team headed by Raphael Khumalo as Group Projects Editor. That will enable me to concentrate on training and product quality. We are already sending senior staff to the M&G for skills development and I hope those synergies will continue to be exploited.


And no, I won’t be tempted to be editor of both the Independent and Standard as some jokers have suggested.

Doubling my workload is not my idea of job satisfaction. Producing better reading is. You be the judge.

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