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Editor’s Memo

Dear Dr Mahoso

I AM in receipt of your letter of January 6 (at right). I note that in addition to the extra-legal powers you have arrogated to yourself you appear to think you have the authority t

o deport editors whose views you disagree with.

While the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act is admittedly a sweeping and poorly crafted document, I am sure our legislators did not intend your remit to extend that far. In fact a court last year found that your commission was improperly constituted and that you were yourself biased in carrying out your work, a ruling that has clear implications for the precise extent of your authority. The MIC’s appeal currently before the Supreme Court in no way invalidates that judgement. However, in the interests of transparency and to address the blatant distortions you have cynically introduced into your reading of our contributor’s letter, I shall respond to the points raised.

Firstly we do not live in Zambia which has its own laws and legal procedures. I note the editor of The Post Fred M’membe has endorsed the satirical piece by Roy Clarke which his newspaper carried. And now a Zambian court has confirmed Clarke’s right of residence in Zambia, an intervention you appear to have failed to anticipate.

From what I can see, Clarke expressed no “hatred and contempt”, as you falsely claim. He merely subjected Zambia’s leaders to the sort of satirical comment that is fundamental to a healthy democracy anywhere. While you as a presidential apologist may indeed find this “unconscionable”, it is standard practice in any society that holds its politicians accountable.

British, US and South African newspapers have no hesitation in subjecting their leaders to robust mockery and nobody claims this is racist or inadmissible on grounds of rank. George Orwell would never have been able to write Animal Farm if your strictures had been applied.

The letter you cite is one of many that we and other newspapers have published expressing the view that Zimbabweans are a “docile lot” in allowing such a vicious tyranny to emerge in their midst. While most of this criticism is specific to Zimbabwe, it also extends to other African states and is part and parcel of the current public discourse about why Africans allow their rulers to misgovern and impoverish them.

Our contributor compared us to a herd of wildebeest that stands by and watches tearfully as one of its members is picked off and eaten by a lion.

“Do you call that tolerance or stupidity?” he asks. It was stupid, he felt.

The writer, who signed himself Tonderayi Mudonhi, was replying to an opinion piece by Ruzvidzo Mupfudza who had spoken about the innate tolerance of Zimbabweans.

You proceed from that point to fatuously claim that the writer “dismisses the Zimbabwean nation and the continent of Africa, except for non-Africans, as an unthinking herd of wild animals”.

In fact the writer made no distinction, as you do, between Africans and non-Africans on the continent, and specifically praised what he calls his “local brother Pius Wakatama” and Chinua Achebe.

You refer at length to the South African Human Rights Commission’s report into racism in the media and conclude that our letter repeats assertions made in the report.

Whatever the views of the Human Rights Commission, it is clear you have extrapolated its conclusions to fit your indictment of the letter. You appear unaware of the criticisms made of the commission’s conclusions, in particular the scepticism surrounding some of the evidence produced by a researcher.

You object to our cartoon of November 14 portraying the people of Zimbabwe as mushrooms – ie raised in the dark and fed on manure. You cite two other letters from our readers as equally objectionable. Most of our readers would regard the mushroom analogy as fair comment!

It is significant that apart from your self-serving objections, we have not had a single letter from any of our readers complaining about the letter to which you take such exception.

You lecture us on the importance of having “a strong sense of context and history”.

“A good newspaper’s coverage of its own community is thorough, sensitive and respectful,” you point out.

We couldn’t agree more. The community in which we work here in Harare has rejected President Robert Mugabe’s pretensions in successive electoral contests since 2000. We respect their verdict and the verdicts of Zimbabweans in other centres across the country.

We have a strong sense of context and history. The context is clearly that of freedom of the press. No democracy can function adequately without an informed electorate – one that has access to a variety of views. The history is that of a revolution betrayed by greed, corruption and repression.

Liberation movements that abuse power in order to retain it are the true enemies of the people, not newspapers that expose their double standards and hypocrisy. Those who apologise for them and presume to police the media can have no claim to be acting in the interests of journalism. True journalism is about public scrutiny and accountability.

The letters column of any newspaper worth its salt is an area of controversy and contention. We don’t have to like the views expressed. Some will be offensive to us. But to censor opinions in the way you suggest is even more offensive.

I note that you have done nothing to address the absence of professional standards in the state-owned media: the intrusion of political views in news stories, unattributed remarks, downright falsehoods, and the hate-mongering that has become its stock in trade.

I also note that your letter to me, received on January 8, was published in the Herald on Tuesday. Perhaps you could explain why a letter to the editor of the Zimbabwe Independent was published in a newspaper that is not a party to the complaint. I also note that you have added a paragraph in the version you sent to the Herald that does not appear in the original. This hardly constitutes professional behaviour or journalistic ethics!

The Zimbabwe Independent rejects your pretensions as an editor. Your own work would indicate this is obviously not an area in which you have any particular expertise. But we have no objection to you writing again if you have any particular concerns. We do not reject letters for publication on the grounds that the writer expresses views that other readers may consider offensive, muddled, partisan or just plain foolish.

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