JENNI Williams, last year’s Communicator of the Year (Coty) award nominee, has taken possession of the winner’s trophy to prevent this year’s award from being manipulated by
its sponsors, British American Tobacco Zimbabwe (BATZ).
The award is made annually by the Zimbabwe Institute for Public Relations (ZIPR).
Williams, now with Women of Zimbabwe Arise (Woza), this week said she had deposited the trophy with Lawyers for Human Rights for safekeeping. Taking the trophy hostage could scuttle this year’s event, scheduled for November 27 in Harare.
She wants BATZ to apologise for allegedly politicising the event.
“I will only allow its release when BATZ apologises and recognises that by cancelling last year’s competition, they attempted to politicise the art of communication and silence freedom of expression,” Williams said.
Last year BATZ pulled out its sponsorship of the Coty award alleging that Williams, one of the nominees, was a controversial figure.
Williams was Commercial Far-mers Union spokesperson before she moved to Justice for Agriculture. The organisations were fighting government over its implementation of the land reform programme. Williams at the time emerged as a fiery spokesperson for the farmers.
Last year BATZ gave an ultimatum to the organisers of the event, the Zimbabwe Institute of Public Relations (ZIPR) to withdraw Williams’ nomination or they would cancel their sponsorship.
“BATZ is uncomfortable with these awards becoming socially and/or politically motivated so Williams should withdraw or the people who nominated her should withdraw their nomination,” BATZ corporate affairs manager, Peter Parirewa, said in letter dated September 19 2002.
Williams refused to withdraw saying that her nomination was valid.
“I am a professional communicator and as such cannot be accused of political bias. My role as a communicator should be separate from that of the product I communicate,” she said.
Criteria used for nominations were also changed, allegedly to sideline Williams.
“I ask to be judged on the professionalism under which the product/view or issue was communicated and the results thereof. Freedom of expression is enshrined in the Zimbabwe constitution and it is the right of these expressions to be communicated and judged unhindered,” Williams said.