ANY pretensions by Zanu PF that it is on the path to reform, consistent with the formation of the unity government, were laid bare this week after the Ministry of Information produced a programme for a media-reform conference scheduled for Nyanga in a fortnight.
The Nyanga conference seeks to fulfill the stakeholdersâ€™ conference which was postponed last month with no official reason given.
We suspected at the time that the postponement of the conference had all to do with Zanu PF crocodiles wanting to hijack the media-reform project to craft media policy that maintains the status quo in the industry.
The venue of the event has been conveniently moved away from the original setting in Harare to an Eastern Highlands resort and away from the glare of scribes who are the key stakeholders.
Here is government once again pretending to consult in the process of media law reform while making damn sure such reform is only skin-deep. We share the Media Alliance of Zimbabweâ€™s position that the outlined agenda and topics for discussion as set out in the programme are â€œfatally compromised and anathema to media freedom and the principles of the Global Political Agreementâ€.
Nothing confirms these fears more than a glance at the programme which has been prepared for the conference and the line-up of speakers at the three-day event.
For starters, the programme was compiled without consultation with key media stakeholders. So egregious is this omission that individuals were this week surprised to find their names on the programme and being asked to tackle dubious subjects with no real bearing on the task to hand.
For example, our deputy editor has been pencilled in to talk about the â€œrole of ghost websitesâ€. What on earth is that? Sites discussing poltergeists and phantoms perhaps! We assume that the ministry meant online publications like zimdaily.com, newzimbabwe.com, thezimbabwetimes.com and so on.
But who determines the ghoulish nature of the sites? Is this not the language of Zanu PF thought police? Are these not the same people who have coined phrases like â€œopposition pressâ€ and â€œpirate radio stationsâ€? We can see through this subterfuge.
This is a crude attempt to confirm state prejudices and positions against on-line publications. But that is besides the point really.Â The Information ministry has â€“â€“ in what we feel is most reprehensible â€“â€“ lined up individuals like Tafataona Mahoso, Johannes Tomana, Jonathan Moyo, Olley Maruma, and Mercy Chizodza who have in the past collectively defended policies which have closed down media space.
They are now being given the platform to strut their stuff of yesteryear and defend the postures of statutory media regulation and the mantras of a spurious nationalism. Â
These denizens of our immediate dark past cannot be trusted in the endeavour to reform the media. Mahoso in particular remains an unreconstructed proponent of state control and an unashamed defender of archaic media policies which suffocate press freedom. His last installment in the Sunday Mail exposed his hostile agenda.
â€œâ€¦ in the scheme of regime change politics, it is suicidal for a country to liberalise its media policy in the immediate aftermath of sanctions or while still enduring and fighting illegal sanctions,â€ he said. â€œThis is because the immediate liberalisation of media policy is consistent with the objective of illegal sanctions and of illegal regime change.â€
This is the dross that repression feeds on and we do not expect Mahoso to perform any better in Nyanga.
He is not the only one caught in this time-warp of demagoguery. He has colleagues in Zanu PF who believe that access to information and freedom of speech are not sacrosanct rights but privileges which must be apportioned to media stakeholders in prescribed doses by a benevolent ruler.Â
This line of thinking has no place in this political dispensation. It must be exposed and rejected. We hate to imagine that the MDC â€” which is an integral part of the unity government and a party which put the issue of media reform high on its to-do list â€” is part of this ruse. Zimbabweans have been demanding media plurality and not control.
They need more diversity on national television and radio and not the current soporific diet of repeats and shoddily produced magazine programmes. They want to read alternative views in the print media.
This is the time to do away with a suborned state media and inject professionalism. Consistent with Sterp and the IPA, bad laws like Aippa, Posa and the Broadcasting Services Act must be removed from the statute books as a priority.
Mahoso & Co must be told that time spent on seeking reform of the media, enhancing free speech and diversifying opinion, will ultimately pay off with improvements to all other areas of life â€“â€“ including necessary reform of the political processes and institutions themselves. Liberalising the media and opening up the democratic space are concepts not foreign to our culture or our continent, nor are they imposed upon us by outsiders. Â
They are what we need for improved governance and what we must tailor for ourselves instead of wasting time on the reprobates of yesterday.