THE embattled Weekly Times has hit back at the Media and Information Commission (MIC), accusing it of being “intolerant” and “retrogressive”. In a sharp letter on Wednesday
, the newspaper told MIC chairman Tafataona Mahoso “not to extend (his influence) to dictating editorial policy to the newspaper”.
“We submit that the commission should not be a stumbling block to progress and publications that want to go about the business of publishing,” the paper said through its lawyer, Kucaca Phulu of Bulawayo-based legal firm, Coghlan & Welsh.
“It would suffice for the commission to point out those errors which they think can be improved upon for consideration … With respect, it is retrogressive to close down a paper for the reasons you have advanced.”
The commission wrote to Mthwakazi Publishing House proprietor Godfrey Ncube on January 5 asking him to show cause within seven days why the commission should not shut down the paper. Mahoso claimed the weekly had misrepresented to the commission material facts on the genre of journalism the paper sought to promote. Mahoso said in its application papers to the MIC, the publishing house did not state its “true intention” to set up the Weekly Times.
“In fact it sought to mislead the commission about the nature of the newspaper and the genre of journalism it sought to promote,” Mahoso said. He said the paper was not a general news vehicle as claimed, but a “running political commentary through and through”. He also took exception to the lead story, titled “Archbishop Ncube attacks Mugabe” saying the story was a “clear sectarian view of the President of Zimbabwe by one religious man”.
However, the paper maintained that it had not done anything wrong.
“The Weekly Times has not done anything that is not expected of a newspaper of its kind,” the paper’s response read. “The Weekly Times has not violated the Act (Aippa). It is not prohibited from publishing a certain class of stories, indeed the Act does not classify stories or topics to be covered.”
Mahoso also said the pledge to uphold rules of fairness, impartial reporting, honesty and integrity “meant at a minimum that there would be a clear distinction between reportage and opinion, there would be clear evidence of efforts by all the writers to make that distinction. This is not the case,” Mahoso said.
However, the paper’s lawyer said: “Our clients are prepared to defend each article and demonstrate that the gathering of news is impartial, accurate and done in accordance with ethical and professional standards. Your notice has not demonstrated how the news gathering techniques fall below the professional and ethical standards.”
Mahoso also accused the newspaper of using “fraudulent letters to the editor” and also indicted the weekly for “real sloppiness.”
Mthwakazi Publications was founded in 2000 and incorporated under the Companies Act in 2002. A consortium of businesspersons based in Bulawayo, Kwekwe and Harare owns it. The publishing house also publishes a magazine Bayethe, distributed mainly in Bulawayo.
Mthwakazi Publications proprietor Ncube declined to comment on the threatened closure of the paper referring questions to his legal counsel. But sources at the newspaper’s Bulawayo office said police officers from the Law and Order section swooped on their premises on Monday and quizzed the editor Gibbs Dube on the paper’s operations. There has been official concern that the Bulawayo-based paper is trying to whip up tribal hatred and also open up discussions on the contentious gukurahundi issue.
Meanwhile, the United States government has condemned amendments to Aippa that will empower government to jail journalists working without a licence for two years.
“We are quite concerned about this law, about tightening of restrictions on journalists and the amended media law that they have passed,” US State department spokesman Richard Boucher said.