Battle for control rocks state media

Ray Matikinye/Augustine Mukaro

THE recent storming of the newsroom at Pocket Hills by Information secretary, George Charamba, constitutes an unprecedented intrusion into the management of the public broadcas

ter by a civil servant.


Charamba stormed the Newsnet newsroom after its “hotline” allegedly went unanswered when he telephoned the newsroom. He wanted to find out why the leading story on a news bulletin on Heroes’ Day had failed to capture the gist of the presidential speech.


Philliat Matsheza, a former deputy director in the Ministry of Information, said during his tenure no government official ever acted in such a manner as such issues were “left to management”.


“Our involvement in the affairs of the ZBC as a ministry was minimal. Our role was the facilitation of budgets to ZBC that had independent revenue collection of its own,” Matsheza, now the director of Southern Africa Human Rights Trust, said.


“We did not conduct any surveillance over editors but gave the corporation operational autonomy. The ministry’s mandate has obviously changed.”

Matsheza said the information secretary’s role then was to make information readily available. Government encouraged a flow of information from grassroots to it and not the other way round as became the norm under Jonathan Moyo.


Charamba’s recent actions appear as evidence of frustration by both the ministry and Zanu PF’s department of information over how to rid the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings (ZBH) of the remnants of Moyo’s legacy.


Sources say the current saga is partly due to a build up of animosity between the party information department headed by Nathan Shamuyarira and Information minister Tichaona Jokonya over control.


While Shamuyarira wants the Ministry of Information to effect changes in government-controlled media, Jokonya and his deputy Bright Matonga seem too slow to act.


The turf war between the two politicians has sucked in Charamba, who is still smarting from not being appointed minister.


Charamba, alongside Webster Shamu and Ephraim Masawi, was touted as a possible Moyo successor when the Tsholotsho MP was expelled from Zanu PF over the Tsholotsho rift.


Charamba has been unable to come to terms with not being appointed minister as evidenced by correspondence between him and senior management at Pockets Hill.


He has clashed with colleagues and ministers over policy issues, particularly regarding the running of the state media ending up embroiled in fights with ZBH workers over a report compiled by Policy Implementation minister Webster Shamu.


Last month Charamba clashed with ZBH head of national productions, Douglas Justice Dhliwayo, over a number of issues, including the productions of jingles, videos and footage to promote Zanu PF policies and programmes in the run-up to the March general election.


The tiff ended up with Charamba accusing Dhliwayo of “selling him out” to Shamu, Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa, Attorney-General Sobusa Gula-Ndebele and Shamuyarira and his deputy spokesman Masawi to solicit favours from them and sabotage his chances of being appointed a minister in April.


Dhliwayo accused Charamba of launching unwarranted attacks and insults against senior government officials he described “as mere politicians” who can’t do anything to him.


The sources said Charamba subjected Dhliwayo to an hour-long telephone tirade over the issue and Dhliwayo reacted angrily with an eight-page letter accusing Charamba of being “malicious” and abusing the President’s Office to pursue personal vendettas.


They said Dhliwayo then asked Charamba why he was angry that he was not appointed minister if he thought being a minister was beneath him.


The sources said the report that caused the infighting focused on the ZBH, Zimpapers, New Ziana and Kingstons, and concluded “all is not well” in the state media.


The latest issue of Zanu PF mouthpiece The Voice, viewed as an impeccable source of party policy, reported eminent changes at Pockets Hill.


Another source said Shamuyarira wanted the state media rid of all the remnants of the Moyo era immediately but Jokonya has been resisting this overbearing attitude. Party sources say Shamuyarira wants the business units set up under Moyo disbanded and the broadcaster to revert to Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.


The sources say at one routine meeting, Shamuyarira railed at Matonga, wanting to know when changes would be effected. But Matonga replied that “his hands were tied and the onus to effect the changes lay with the minister”.


The broadcaster has not been able to wean itself from Moyo’s legacy that brought in inexperienced journalists to replace veteran broadcasters who were elbowed out because they could not qualify for Moyo’s media decimation programme.


Allegations of unprofessional conduct that have been levelled against some staffers at Newsnet reflect the power struggles between the Zanu PF information department and the Ministry of Information over policy.