SECRETARY for Information and Publicity George Charamba has said his department was the brains behind the research which culminated in the drafting and eventual enactment of the controversial Access to Information and Protection of Privac
y Act (Aippa).
Addressing journalists in Harare this week, Charamba said contrary to widespread speculation that his former boss, Professor Jonathan Moyo, had masterminded the crafting of Aippa, it was actually the result of initiatives and extensive research conducted by officers in the department of information in the President’s Office.
Charamba boasted that he was proud to be associated with Aippa, especially after the recent Supreme Court ruling upholding the constitutionality of the sections that were being challenged by Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ), publishers of the banned Daily News and Daily News on Sunday.
The enactment of Aippa, which has been condemned as impinging on media freedom and freedom of expression, has seen the closure of the independent Daily News, Daily News on Sunday, The Tribune and Weekly Times by the government-controlled Media and Information Commission (MIC).
Zanu PF’s secretary for information and publicity and veteran journalist, Dr Nathan Shamuyarira, and former Zanu MP for Makonde, Kindness Paradza, are, however, on record saying Aippa is a bad law.
Charamba was speaking at a press discussion in Harare organised by Misa-Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists and the executive of the Quill Club, which is the national press club for journalists.
The discussion under the topic: “The Zimbabwe question: where did the media get it wrong and where did it get it right”, was attended by close to 100 local and international journalists.
In his presentation, Charamba said the private and international media had ganged up to discredit the government of President Robert Mugabe over the land reform programme.
He said that it was necessary to enact laws such as Aippa and the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) as Zimbabwe was under threat.
He said laws such as the BSA were informed by laws in other jurisdictions, especially Australia. Pressed by journalists on the selective application of these laws, Charamba says there had been “overshoots” in the manner in which the law was being applied.
He explained that his department had not thrown out any foreign correspondents based in Zimbabwe but that their work permits had expired and in the case of local journalists like Lewis Machipisa (now in Britain), he says he was never hounded out of the country and is free to return.
On the closure of the Daily News, he said the paper could return anytime soon if it complies with the registration requirements under Aippa as administered by the MIC “as there is no paper that can be banned for life”.
The Daily News has since applied for a licence and its application is being considered by the MIC.
On whether there was no conflict of interest arising from the fact that Dr Rino Zhuwarara sits on the MIC board when he is also the chief executive officer of Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings as is also the case with Herald editor Pikirayi Deketeke who sits on the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe board, he said those issues would be looked into.
Charamba also briefed journalists on events leading to the sacking of Professor Moyo saying the departure of the former minister had been precipitated by his frequent clashes with the presidency.
He said as a result the department had to choose between supporting an individual’s political ambitions and loyalty to the presidency. This was the untenable situation which had led to the subsequent firing of Moyo after Charamba had warned his officers that they were to remain loyal to the president.
Charamba said he even phoned editors at the state media and told them to desist from being used by “one person”. Most editors, according to Charamba, agreed to toe the line with the exception of Chronicle editor, Stephen Ndlovu.
Ndlovu was subsequently fired.
On developments at ZBH, he said the public broadcaster was implementing new technological advancements but that progress was being hampered by the lack of skilled personnel. This situation had seen former Newsnet editor-in-chief Chris Chivinge being recalled from Namibia.
He dismissed as untrue reports that incumbent editor-in-chief Tazzen Mandizvidza would be fired as he has failed in his job as editor-in-chief to make way for Chivinge.
He said Chivinge was only assisting in the implementation of the digitalisation process until Mandizvidza masters the new technological advancements.
Misa-Zimbabwe, however, has it on good authority that Mandizvidza has already been demoted and Chivinge is back in his post as editor-in-chief.
Apart from failing to utilise the new digital technology installed by the Iranians, Mandizvidza stands accused of giving too much space to the MDC in the run-up to the election.
On reports that the government is jamming SW Radio Africa based in London, Charamba said that was not true.
He, however, wished that the station be jammed saying SW Radio Africa “is a Western-backed propaganda radio station set up to destabilise Zimbabwe”.
SW Radio Africa has been experiencing transmission problems which experts have attributed to interference.
Charamba told the media that well over 100 foreign journalists had been accredited and these were mostly from African states and some Western media houses which he said were not hostile to Zimbabwe.
He added that foreign media houses that want to operate from Zimbabwe would be asked to employ local journalists.
Asked whether he believed in media freedom, he said there were many interpretations of press freedom, but that the government would not watch and allow the media to “destroy” the country.
This, Charamba says, had come about because some Western countries have claimed that they were working with opposition parties and journalists working for the private press to “effect regime change”.
He pledged that he would meet regularly with media practitioners to improve relations between journalists, especially those working with the independent press and his department. — Misa-Zimbabwe.