THE self-righteous tone of the editorial in the Herald of February 11 is amazing.
This newspaper is the flagship o
f the governments publishing conglomerate, Zimbabwe Newspapers (1980) Ltd. It falls under the Department of Information and Publicity in the President’s Office. The Minister of State in charge of that department is Professor Jonathan Moyo, the architect of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa).
The editor, apparently with a straight face, makes the following statement on his papers reaction to Aippa:
“The Herald’s editorial team has remained resolute in its principled position on what it regards as the national interest. This is why we have never made a fuss over the promulgation of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, as we viewed it as a necessary check to guard against malicious media excesses that go beyond honest mistakes.”
The editorial was prompted by what some might describe as a tiff between Moyo and the editor over a story which followed the scandal at ENG, involving Philip Chiyangwa, the MP and Zanu PF bigwig, recently a reluctant resident of what has been called the government’s Harare Hilton Hotel – Harare central police station.
If there are still people out there who believe the editor of the Herald is entitled to speak with thunderous self-righteousness of the principles of journalism, then all some of us can say is that they thoroughly deserve each other.
I write as one who worked for Zimpapers for ten years and left of my own accord. Every editor who worked for the group during that time chafed at the relentless interference of government ministers and officials with their autonomy.
The pretence that the editors were free to run their newspapers as they saw fit was constantly being put to the test. Willie Musarurwa’s ouster from the editorship of the Sunday Mail in 1985 finally ended all speculation. The venom with which he was attacked by the government seemed couched in language designed to warn other like-minded editors that they too would be given short shrift if they strayed from the gwara remusangano, which can be liberally translated as the party path.
But Willowgate, the high-profile scandal unearthed by the Chronicle under the editorship of Geoff Nyarota, provided the most potent evidence of the government’s intolerance of the Zimpapers editors’ pretensions to autonomy. Nyarota was virtually hounded out of Zimpapers. In many ways, he and other editors to suffer a similar fate were persecuted for sticking to the principles of journalism, the general one being that “comment is fair, but facts are sacred”.
Incidentally, the origin of the controversy which led to the exchanges between Moyo and his editor is a powerful indictment of Aippa. Who can define a “falsehood” accurately enough for it to lead to the conviction of a journalist?
Under our present, albeit defective, libel laws, “malicious intent” and “public interest” are often cited to prove or disprove whether a crime has been committed.
Under Aippa, nobody can be sure what really constitutes a “falsehood” crime. From where I stand, the headline under the Herald editorial of February 11, “We’ve nothing to fear from Aippa”, could itself be cited as a falsehood.