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Furore Over Media Conference

MEDIA organisations yesterday threatened to boycott an all-stakeholders’ conference in Nyanga next month to review the country’s media environment and policies saying its agenda was flawed and contrary to the principles of the global political agreement (GPA).

The conference — postponed last month — will be held under the theme “Towards an Open, Tolerant and Responsible Media Environment”. Its objective is to guide government’s media policy. It will run from May 6-8.

According to the conference programme, the Minister of Media, Information and Publicity, Webster Shamu, will give the official opening address while members of the Joint Implementation and Monitoring Committee (Jomic) — Ministers Welshman Ncube and Patrick Chinamasa, and lawyer Innocent Chagonda — will outline articles relevant to freedom of expression in the GPA.

Presenters at the conference include former Minister of Information and Publicity Jonathan Moyo — the mastermind of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa), Media and Information Commission chairman Tafataona Mahoso, Attorney-General Johannes Tomana, and filmmaker Olley Maruma, among others.   

It is also expected that various media stakeholders will make presentations on themes relating to the media.

Some of the topics under discussion include Freedom of Expression, Media and the Rights of the State (Tomana), The Media and a Christian Perspective (Trevor Manhanga), Regulation and Print Media — Experience to Date (Mahoso), The Media and National Interest in a Global Context (Olley Maruma), and  Sanctions, Publishing and Access to Information (Phyllis Johnson).

The Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ), a coalition of media organisations that include the Media Institute of Southern Africa, Zimbabwe National Editors Forum (Zinef), and the Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe, and the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe, have described the outlined agenda and topics of discussion as “fatally compromised”.

“After reviewing the programme for the proposed government of Zimbabwe all- stakeholders media conference, scheduled for May 6-8 in Nyanga, we regard the outlined agenda and topics for discussion as fatally compromised and anathema to media freedom and the principles of the global political agreement,” the alliance said.

“It is our considered view that the agenda and most of the proposed presenters/facilitators have been, or are, hostile to media freedom and the free flow of information within Zimbabwean society. We do not see how a meeting of this nature can possibly resolve the problems that currently restrict all media practice in Zimbabwe.”

MAZ said the agenda had shifted from the initial position of the government set out last month.

“We are of the view that the agenda outlined (this week) is a radical departure from government’s initial attempt to stage an all-stakeholders’ media conference due to have been held on March 28-29… However, we remain committed to engaging government in crafting a credible agenda for genuine democratic media-law reform,” the alliance added.

Zinef chairperson Iden Wetherell yesterday said the conference was fatally flawed and not a meeting the free press could support.

“Many participants are notoriously hostile to a free press and others have no connection to the media except as accomplices in its suppression. There will be no progress with the advertised line-up.”

However, Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) president Matthew Takaona said the union was prepared to engage with anybody for progress’ sake.

Takaona said: “As a union we are prepared to engage with anybody as long as they are prepared to get focused and make progress. Our concerns are that the conference might just be another talk show because there is no indication of how this conference will proceed after Nyanga. There should have been a complete roadmap.”  But he said ZUJ would attend.

Deputy Media minister Jameson Timba yesterday said the conference was an opportunity for the media industry to interact with government for the purpose of developing a new media policy for the country.

“At the heart of the new thinking is the need to have an open, tolerant and respected media environment,” Timba said. “Tolerance means that we must sometimes engage with those that we do not agree with without necessarily compromising our own principles and values. I therefore urge all stakeholders to participate in the forthcoming conference.”

Other participants slated to speak include Chris Chivinge, Rino Zhuwarara, Pikerayi Deketeke, Happison Muchechetere, Tazzen Mandizvidza, Chris Mutsvangwa, Pat Made, Much Masunda, Geoff Feltoe, Tawana Khupe, Chris Chinaka, Claude Mararike, and Caesar Zvayi. — Staff Writer.

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