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Editor’s Memo

Seriously?

Iden Wetherell

THE Media and Information Commission put out a statement this week concerning “patterns of misrepresentation” that it claimed had emerged in the media regard

ing the cancellation of Africa Tribune Newspapers’ licence to publish.


There was an assumption that mass media services were “sacred cows” that should be allowed to operate outside the law, the MIC said. The nation had been subjected by the same media to “an endless song about accountability, transparency and the rule of law”, it said.


Since 2002 when Aippa was passed government had given the mass media every opportunity to demonstrate that they really believe that everyone in Zimbabwe must be subject to the same requirements, it claimed. But when they are challenged to show that they are accountable and law-abiding, they “resort to an entirely different song”: that they should not be required to obey the same rules as other citizens because they happen to be special watchdogs of press freedom.


“It is the commission’s view that there is no self-respecting society anywhere in the world which allows the two sets of values to be kept and used as mutually exclusive.”


The MIC also deplored “the tendency to personalise the enforcement of media laws in order to make it possible to demonise and stigmatise particular individuals”. The enforcement of Aippa was a statutory, professional and institutional responsibility, the MIC said.


“Journalists must therefore desist from the immoral habit of sensationalising national laws as expressions of personal whims and even vendettas of particular ministers…”


I accept that the MIC must sing for its supper by putting out disingenuous statements of this sort that appear to be shielding ministers from criticism.

But instructing the media on how it should report on the political and legislative process is well beyond the regulatory body’s competence.


Where a particular minister has identified himself indelibly with Aippa, has conducted it through its various readings and amendments in parliament, used it to threaten newspapers, and attempted to justify it to the country and the world, it is unsurprising that he should be held responsible for its depredations!


There is a widely-held view, expressed in the Daily News case last year, that the MIC is biased and that it is the instrument of an intolerant and increasingly repressive regime. Its chairman, who should be exercising his duties in an impartial and professional manner, has referred to this newspaper in abusive terms (Sunday Mail, April 18) and described one of our advertising clients as “illegal” when it is acting entirely within the law.


The MIC claims it is concerned with issues of media professionalism and ethics. In which case it should be an independent and even-handed body.


But there is no sign that it is tackling the lack of professionalism in the state sector, giving rise to the obvious charge that it is not permitted to interfere with certain “sacred cows”.


One very recent example can be cited. A report in the Chronicle last Thursday said “divisions” had “rocked” the Southern African Editors Forum (SAEF) ahead of a meeting of African editors in Kinshasa.


The report followed Chronicle editor Stephen Ndlovu’s exclusion from a SAEF meeting in Windhoek. He had attempted to have the state-aligned Zimbabwe Association of Editors (ZAE) recognised as representative of Zimbabwean editors.


The report, carried alongside Ndlovu’s byline on another story from Windhoek, contained the following: “The move (to exclude the ZAE), strongly opposed by three countries, was initiated by the US-bound editor of Beeld, Henry Jeffreys, a South African, at the behest of Zimbabwe Independent editor Iden Wetherell. The two have strong Boer links, said sources.”


The same article stated that: “All editors in Zimbabwe were invited and only a few from the private media did not attend. One editor who was eager to attend the meeting disclosed that he had been stopped by Wetherell.


“Sources said Wetherell was in direct communication with Jeffreys who promised him that he would ensure that Zimbabwe would be thrown out.”


In fact I have never met or communicated with Henry Jeffreys in any way at all. I was not invited to the SAEF meeting and I did not discourage anybody from attending the meeting.


When the Chronicle called me ahead of the meeting I made it clear I had not been invited. I was not asked if I had been in touch with Jeffreys or what my view was on the ZAE. But fictitious quotes from me were included in the report.


Deliberate falsehoods of this sort persist at every level of the state media.

Idasa this week denied claims made by Ndlovu in his other front-page report from Windhoek that Misa’s media law and policy programme manager Gugulethu Moyo, who was one of three speakers at a SAEF discussion forum, had proposed “taking the Saddam route” in dealing with Zimbabwe’s errant regime.


“The article in the Chronicle contains factual errors about Ms Moyo’s presentation and misrepresents her responses to questions from the floor during discussion time,” Idasa said.


“Neither she nor Richard Calland of Idasa promoted war as a solution for the challenges facing the people in Zimbabwe.”


It is clear from this that the Chronicle’s report on Ms Moyo’s comments were as inventive as its account of my own.


Contrary to the MIC’s claim that there cannot be two sets of media values in any socie-ty, we have clear evidence from this episode that there already are. The state media is allowed to fabricate stories with impunity.


So long as these “patterns of misrepresentation” persist without censure while the independent press is under constant siege, the MIC will have difficulty getting its statements taken seriously.

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