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Editor’s Memo

The game plan

Iden Wetherell

I HOPE a statement by our publisher, Trevor Ncube, in today’s issue (see local news) will have cleared up some of the disinformation being propagated by t

he usual suspects in government about the future of the Zimbabwe Independent and Standard.

A report appeared this week in the Sunday Mail claiming the Standard would be going daily and that it would take on the Daily News’ staff while dumping its own. This was part of a deal between Ncube and the ANZ’s Strive Masiyiwa, it was suggested.

The evidence for this front-page story headed “Underground forces move to Daily News” was a discussion that was said to have taken place between John Moeketsi of the Daily News and “Langton Nyakwenda of the Zimbabwe Independent”.

I was a little surprised to learn of this discussion because nobody by that name is on the staff of this newspaper. After a few enquiries I learnt that Langton Nyakwenda is in fact a cub reporter on the sports desk at the Standard. John Moeketsi is a trainee attached to the Daily News.

Nyakwenda, I should add, denies ever having held such a conversation. He points out that as a sports reporter he is hardly privy to whatever Trevor and Strive may or may not be saying on the phone in Johannesburg!

But that’s not the point. No such conversation between the two media heads took place. This was clearly a fabricated story, significantly without a byline, designed to incriminate this paper and the Standard.

Which explains why I am taking the trouble this week to refute such obvious falsehoods from such a familiar source which the public is anyway unlikely to take seriously!

Very simply this is part of a strategy by the state to warrant moving against our newspapers. Assuming in the unlikely event the journalists involved would be prepared to take up such an offer, employing the unaccredited Daily News’ staff would obviously give the Media and Information Commission the pretext it needs to act against the Standard. So would increasing the frequency of either of our papers without notifying the MIC.

I recall the lies told about for-eign correspondents Joe Winter, Mercedes Sayagues, and Andy Meldrum before they were pounced on. And the way the Daily News was threatened and pilloried in the period leading up to its closure.

Information minister Jonathan Moyo was reported to have said last Friday at the launch of New Ziana that the Independent and Standard, along with the Daily News, were “running dogs of imperialism” that published “trash”.

“If we were serious people who do not want to apologise for who we are… really we would shut these papers down because they are trash, they injure the national interest,” he was reported to have said.

Obviously much of this terminology was not designed to be taken seriously. Nobody expecting to command respect from his audience would revert to the redundant language of the Chinese Cultural Revolution! He was playing to some other gallery. But given the record of this regime for vindictive and violent behaviour towards its critics, we would be foolish to dismiss Moyo’s threats as the overripe rhetoric of a minister livid with newspapers that challenge his political pretensions.

His reported remarks that “Studio 7 will die”, directed at the Voice of America’s Zimbabwe service, were a reliable indication of the depth of hostility that exists in government circles towards its growing list of critics at home and abroad. Let us not forget that the people who planted a bomb at the Daily News’ printing press in January 2001 still walk free. So do those who abducted and tortured Mark Chavunduka and Ray Choto.

That tells us all we need to know about the government’s commitment to the rule of law which Moyo endlessly recites. When ministers talk about the “national interest” they are usually referring to their own!

The South African National Editors Forum has raised the ANZ issue with South Africa’s deputy Foreign minister Aziz Pahad. He has in turn said he will raise it with his counterparts in Harare. We don’t expect them to take any notice. But the South Africans are beginning to drop the mantra that the Daily News has broken the law and therefore there were no grounds for objection.

Did the ANC say in the 1970s and 80s that it was obliged to obey apartheid laws? Is it the South African view that laws that oppress Zimbabweans in violation of constitutional guarantees have to be respected?

We hope not. The African Union and Sadc are facing the litmus test of peer review which President Olusegun Obasanjo says will be up and running in December.

Zimbabwe’s friends have been saying to us in respect of the Daily News case: “What can we do?”

My answer is very simple. Don’t let them get away with it. Don’t let Obasanjo and President Mbeki claim the goodwill of donors and investors while refusing to address the democratic needs of millions of Zimbabweans. Don’t let the authorities in Harare get away with criminal misrule including attacks on newspapers.

For far too long now the South African authorities – and other governments – have swallowed hook, line and sinker assurances they have been given by their counterparts in Harare. They have then repeated these assurances to the international community. President Obasanjo was even persuaded to send a letter to John Howard that he now appears to accept contained serious distortions about the situation here.

Regional leaders, especially those opposed to megaphone diplomacy, must stop being megaphones for Mugabe.

It is a fundamental tenet of the Sadc Treaty signed by all member states that voters can only make an informed choice if they have access to a diversity of views. That in turn can only come with press pluralism. A Misa delegation which recently visited states in the region to clarify events at ANZ pointed out that the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights has adopted a Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa. Principle VIII states that “any registration system for the print media shall not impose substantive restrictions on the right to freedom of expression”.

Aippa clearly violates that tenet.

Sadc leaders are not living up to their international undertakings. Come Nepad peer review, they will need to be reminded of that.

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