Editor’s Memo: Public Media Is For The Public

ON Tuesday Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings’ website (www.newsnet.co.zw) carried a small story that the Minister of Information and Publicity Dr Sikhanyiso Ndlovu had toured ZBH Pockets Hill and at the end of the tour gave an address to the ZBH board.

 

This address was also broadcast on Monday night on News @ Eight.

“It is the duty of the national broadcaster to highlight various programmes that the government has implemented in pursuit of empowering the majority of its people,” Ndlovu said.

Ndlovu urged Zimbabweans to tune in to the Gweru-based Voice of Zimbabwe radio station rather than simply depend on foreign radio stations “which are being used by the opposition to tarnish the image of the country”.

Ndlovu also implored the ZBH board to portray President Mugabe in a “positive light” to ensure that he wins the pending presidential election. He also said he would soon pay the Zimpapers board a visit to drive his point home.

This is deplorable behaviour coming just after World Press Freedom Day, a day set aside by the United Nations to remind governments — including ours — of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression enshrined under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It is wrong for public media to act as the mouthpiece of the ruling elite.

For communities to engage in meaningful political discourse and hold their governments accountable, they must have free, fair, pluralistic and professional media. And the minister pretends not to know this.

The public media should not be active political players aligning themselves to a political movement or be partisan by providing free campaigning space for a particular political party or candidate.

Ndlovu said ZBH should remind citizens of where they are coming from so that they understand more about the biting sanctions which were supposedly called for by the opposition MDC.

This sort of thinking is worrying, especially with the amount of reports on political violence in the last two weeks.

In the Rwanda genocide in 1994 where nearly a million people were butchered on ethnic lines, radio stations were used to promote the killings through hate speech.

Anyone who has watched the movie, Hotel Rwanda will remember the hisses of radio presenters of a fictional radio station, Hutu Power, telling Hutus that the time had come to “cut the tall trees” — a reference to Tutsis who are taller than the Hutu.

An outstanding case of hate speech during the Rwanda genocide was Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) — a radio station accused of playing a key role in creating the atmosphere of charged ethnic hostility that allowed the genocide to occur.

RTLM was not created overnight. It was a gradual process that started off as a popular station with mild incidences of hate humour and then hate propaganda against Tutsis.

It moved up a gear to inciting violence and finally went as far as identifying targets for slaughter.

Two executives of RTLM, Ferdinand Nahimana and Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza, were charged with genocide by the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in 2003.

This is the process our nation must guard against. Radios and newspapers don’t kill people, but they plant the seeds and ideas of hatred for people to act on.

The nation is at a fragile point in our history and in its delicate moment it is easy to degenerate into another Kenya.

Suggestions from the minister that public media should support this cause of one political party should be strongly repudiated.

The March 29 presidential results released by ZEC showed that President Robert Mugabe managed only 43,2% of the vote against Morgan Tsvangirai’s 47,9%.

Other candidates shared the rest. This result should say something to Ndlovu. Not the whole nation wants Mugabe.

The public media should not abuse its mandate by trying to sway public opinion by creating a fictitious wonderland where Mugabe alone is the dear leader.

He has been rejected overwhelmingly in Bulawayo and Harare, and in many rural constituencies.

Public media should not be used to launder Mugabe’s soiled image or rehabilitate his delinquent party which is now effectively the opposition.

Public media must represent expectations of the nation and not a few discredited monarchists.

Public media relies heavily on national coffers for its survival. The use of public media to achieve one’s political ends is synonymous with dictatorships.

It is abuse of taxpayers money and this is not acceptable in democratic societies.

Sovereignty is to do with freedom from outside interference — the right to self-govern.

The minister should know this freedom must extend to ZBH and Zimpapers boards. They are not Zanu PF property.

As we celebrate our 12th birthday as a newspaper this week we continue to strive to protect the freedom of expression and provide a platform for all progressive forces to participate in national discourse.

Zanu PF should prepare itself to a new culture in which they are definitely going to lose their leverage in controlling news content.

As the opposition they will be chasing after media space to air their views. This has not dawned on Ndlovu who appears caught in a time warp in which he believes his party will rule forever.

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