Bon voyage to nowhere, Comrade Gono

TRONG>SINCE 2002 we have been endlessly fed the fiction that Zimbabwe’s Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act is either less stringent than, or about the same as, Sweden’s media legislation.

Nobody is sure where this daft story originated, or why its protagonists picked on Sweden, the most liberal democracy in Europe. But it was soon propagated by the state’s media machinery as if it were the gospel truth.

Last week the state had an opportunity to put its theory to the test. The Swedish government organised a trip to Sweden by journalists to see for themselves the state of play in that country. In addition to scribes from the private media, five were invited from the state media.

This would obviously provide a perfect opportunity, one would have thought, for Aippa’s adherents to prove their case and show that Zimbabwe was no different from the rest of the world in imposing curbs on its media practitioners.

But then we heard that Information minister Jonathan Moyo had instructed the five state journalists (one from ZBC, the rest from Zimpapers) not to undertake the trip.

The obvious conclusion was that even the most indoctrinated writers would have difficulty equating the situation in Sweden to Zimbabwe. In fact there are no comparisons at all and the only surprise is that it has taken the Swedish authorities this long to enable such a spurious claim to be rebutted.

Furthermore, Stockholm has provided a fig leaf of respectability to the state-sponsored Zimbabwe Association of Editors (ZAE) by allowing one of its members to participate after a last-minute application. Admittedly, he sang for his supper by disowning Moyo (“What politicians say does not affect our editorial decisions”) but a bid to have the Swedes fund a diversion to Windhoek, so he could attend an editors’ forum there, was less successful!

In fact the Namibia visit was generally a disaster. The state editors had hoped that the Southern African Editors Forum would recognise the ZAE as the authentic voice of Zimbabwean editors. But it declined to do so asking the ZAE representative where his colleagues from the independent media were.

This represents a setback for the bearded one in Bulawayo who has been promising to adhere to the highest professional standards while churning out the usual partisan bile. How long will it take the state-sponsored grouping to understand that the country and its neighbours are no longer in the mood for government public relations officers masquerading as journalists?

Readers of the state media used to have to read between the lines, as in the former Communist bloc, to understand the Byzantine manoeuvring of their leaders. But that is no longer necessary. There is now a host of dubious apologists who are all required to trot out the same tired mantras and attack the same targets, using identical language, which makes the real author of these uniform assaults only too evident.

One of his pseudonyms was on Sunday taking Kindness Paradza to task in much the same style as his owner.

Paradza is now “a troubled and thoroughly confused” aspiring media mogul, we were told. And why is that? Because he thinks he can “hoodwink the public into forgetting the damage he actually meted out against Zanu PF during his days as deputy editor of the then rabid Financial Gazette”.

Was this charge actually made at the time and did it prevent well-known academics from contributing to the paper? At least it is a relief to hear the FinGaz is no longer “rabid”.

But Paradza’s more recent crime would appear to be the publication in the Tribune of claims by John Nkomo that fifth columnists were at work within the ruling party. These infiltrators “might in point of fact be closer to the Tribune than to any other quarter”, came the sharp retort on Sunday.

After all, who had “openly, publicly and defiantly attacked a law promoted by the ruling party, passed by parliament and implemented by the Zanu PF government”?

So now all is clear. Paradza committed the cardinal sin of criticising Aippa. Or was it the Broadcasting Services Act? Paradza’s claim that Jonathan Moyo was equally critical of Zanu PF when he used to write for weekly papers was “useless”, His Master’s Voice dutifully intoned.

“Where and when has Prof Moyo criticised the ruling party in parliament today or elsewhere since becoming an active member of the party…?” he wanted to know.

Paradza was “definitely intellectually challenged” in failing to understand the “nuances and dynamics” of the nationalist struggle, we were told.

Actually, everybody understands only too well what this struggle is about. It is about an increasingly transparent power bid that involves rubbishing rivals by going for their perceived proxies.

We didn’t have to look too far for the give-away line: Paradza had been “fronting for some politicians with succession ambitions” when at the FinGaz and was still representing “the same old politician”.

That should be clear enough. And other possible contenders were not spared. John Nkomo should have been more “cautious” in lashing out at the public media over the issue of letters to new farmers, we were told. He unwisely attempted to “deny what was undeniable”.

‘Denying what is undeniable” sounds like a similar offence to quoting vice-presidents and party chairmen when their remarks may prove embarrassing to ministers, which we were charged with recently.

We don’t mind puerile claims that the Independent is a “British-influenced” or “British-run” paper because intelligent readers just laugh at such obvious smears by discredited political windbags. But should publicly-owned papers become a vehicle for individual politicians to fight private wars against those they perceive as threats to their grip on power? Is that what was intended when the Zimbabwe Mass Media Trust was set up?

Perhaps Nathan Shamuyarira may care to comment.

Meanwhile, Nathaniel Manheru has promised to “deal with Muckraker” tomorrow “in a manner and tone” that makes up for last week’s edition.

Threats of retribution are the stock in trade of this deeply disturbed individual who appears to be suffering from a growing sense of frustration and resentment.

Given his well-advertised control over the levers of state power we do not doubt his capacity to punish those he attacks with such venom for having dared to challenge his pretensions. But is this the language of a regime confident of having seen off the threat from independent newspapers and won the battle for hearts and minds?

Finally, we wish Gideon Gono a good trip to wherever it is he is not going!

His plans seem a little up in the air at present. He was in Pretoria this week for talks with Tito Mboweni. This was after his staff had said he was going to Kampala.

He got a rather rude reception in South Africa from the Sunday Times which doesn’t appear to appreciate the multi-faceted role of a bank CEO in dealing with demanding clients.

A reported trip to the UK appears to be on hold while an RBZ team accompanied by Supa Mandiwanzira battles with the locals — or rather our locals — on the governor’s behalf in places like Leeds.

The team is there to publicise the Homelink scheme. No doubt we will hear glowing reports of their success. Supa seems to be liaising with staff at Zimbabwe House. We would be keen to know exactly how he fits into the governor’s scheme of things including his role at Mighty Movies and the FinGaz.

Gono is understandably concerned with accuracy and transparency in our reporting of his activities, so we are confident he will address these concerns when he returns from wherever it is he is not going next.

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