Muckraker: Charamba, Shamu and the ‘professional’ Public Media Myth

IT is intriguing to note how an error started in one government newspaper is likely to find its way from the news pages of that paper to the editorial pages, and from there into other government papers.

One example will suffice. It was reported in the Herald a few weeks ago that the Commonwealth was among those lifting their travel warnings on Zimbabwe.

Now this may have been a careless reporter who had momentarily spotted a reference to the Commonwealth of Australia and wrote it up as Australia and the Commonwealth. Whatever the case, the Commonwealth comprises many diverse states who do not have common positions on things like travel warnings. Obviously countries like Zambia, South Africa, and Namibia have not adopted travel warnings on Zimbabwe. Nor have India and Barbados!
This reminds us of daft mentions in the government press of the “white Commonwealth”, a reference no doubt to Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
But the people disseminating this usage have evidently never been to any of the countries in question. Those who have walked down a street in London, Auckland or Sydney would very soon know these are no longer “white” countries, if they ever were. And even the shortest visit to Vancouver would reveal a melting pot of nationalities. Canada has as its governor-general a woman from a minority background.

Presumably, once Zimbabwe has restored the rule of law and returned to the values expressed in the Harare Declaration of 1991, it will be eligible for membership once again. Zimbabwe was suspended in 2003 despite vigorous efforts by President Mugabe to stay in. A broad consensus from every continent said Zimbabwe wasn’t ready for readmission.
That is probably still the case. Mugabe pretended after his signal diplomatic defeat in 2003 that he didn’t want to be a member anyway.
It’s no longer up to him. It’s up to Zimbabweans as a whole to decide. Everybody around us is a member. Even lusophone Mozambique. There are clearly significant advantages to be had, particularly in the educational sector. And readmission would be seen as part of our rehabilitation in the international community.
So let’s abandon fatuous references to “the Queen’s tea party” by spokesmen for a regime whose head wanted nothing more than to be invited to tea at Buckingham Palace!

It is difficult from the perspective of today to recall just how many times Mugabe travelled outside the country in the 1980s, that halcyon era when Zimbabwe was a key player on the international stage. But the seeds of ignominy had already been sown in the graves of 20 000 people in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces. Mugabe visited North Korea no fewer than eight times until one of their diplomats was discovered with rhino horns in his diplomatic bag.
North Korea is today an undisguised failure where thousands starve because it cannot feed itself. Across the border, South Korea is a success story where its people enjoy living standards akin to those of Western Europe.
But that didn’t stop Mugabe heaping praise upon North Korea at a dinner for a visiting delegation from the hermit state last week.
He praised the late “Great Leader” for his support in the liberation war and congratulated North Korea on its launch of what he called a “satellite” last month. It was in fact a missile.
Not difficult to see the connection here. A head of state who assiduously constructs a personality cult around himself. Who suppresses all forms of dissent. And who devotes scarce public resources to extravagant projects while his people starve. Oh yes, and who wears a funny little red scarf now and again.
We speak of course of “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il!

On the subject of self-indulgent tyrants, Muckraker was amused to read in the Sunday Times a report that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi had thrown a wobbly when he was greeted on arrival in Pretoria by former Arts and Culture minister Pallo Jordan.
Jordan was not included in Jacob Zuma’s new cabinet. Gaddafi threatened to boycott the swearing in if he was not greeted by Zuma or deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe. After intense negotiations on Friday night, Zuma agreed to repeat the greeting ceremony to avert a no-show the next day by the mercurial Libyan leader.
Pictures in the South African press show somebody in an over-braided uniform, dark glasses and a pale complexion looking very much like Michael Jackson on a bad day.
What a thriller!

Equally funny was the Herald’s lickspittle report on Mugabe’s arrival in Pretoria for the swearing in. His reception started off as “a round of applause”. Then the welcome became “uproarious” as the president raised a clenched fist.
When he was greeted by Zuma, both leaders “laughed together profusely”, we are told.
Foreign minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi described the applause for Mugabe as “tumultuous” and cited it as “proof of his endearing popularity despite his demonisation by the mainstream South African and Western media”.
Mugabe was also “cheered and waved at” by policemen and airport workers on arrival at OR Tambo, we are told.
Is there a school in Harare where reporters are instructed on how to write this baloney?
More touching than this partisan piffle was a photo in the Sunday Times of Graca Machel leaning across to wake Madiba up as he slumbered peacefully through the ceremony. It was one of those pictures that tells a thousand words.
And is Muckraker right in thinking the Sunday Times got their Zambian presidents mixed up? It looked more like Ruppiya Banda than Kenneth Kaunda. But we are open to correction.

Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Media, Information, and Publicity George Charamba has been giving testimony to parliament on his ministry’s functions. The exchange with MPs, reported in the Sunday Mail, contained some interesting views.
Responding to a question about the damage to the country’s image caused by the incarceration of journalists, among others, Charamba said Media minister Webster Shamu’s hands were tied on the matter as it was still before the courts. He said it had emerged, though, that “some individuals are using journalism as a convenient refuge”.
“I asked for the name of the media house that employs Manyere: I got no answer. I asked for the name of the institution where he trained: Again, I got no answer!” he was reported as saying.
“There is a general misconception that whosoever wields a notebook, pen and camera is a journalist. This makes it seem as though there are no entry requirements (for the profession) when they exist.” He added that “Jestina Mukoko left journalism for civic society endeavours, yet she was still being identified with the former”.
“Is it based on historical affiliation or current pursuits?” he queried.
According to the Sunday Mail report, Charamba backed Mutare West MP Shuah Mudiwa’s submission, which called for the public media to balance their coverage of members of the inclusive government. “He said the advent of the government demanded that the media mirror the ethos of this new dispensation.”
“We are aware that the times have changed. This (inclusive government) is a collaborative effort, comprising three political parties. Hence, the demand on the state media is that they reflect the ethos that is dominant.
“Interestingly, I am always accosted by the parties over how they are covered. For ZBC, the problem is we have limited cameras and the (main) news bulletin is an hour long.”

And it is as boring as hell, he might have added. As for his claim that Shamu was not able to comment on the cases involving the incarceration of journalists, does that include their abduction and torture? Is he unable to comment on the impact on the country’s image of the abduction and incarceration of journalists for months before they were brought before the courts?
As for the semantics about who can practise as a journalist, why wasn’t he asked what the government had done to suffocate the practice of journalism in Zimbabwe? How many careers have been destroyed since 2002? As for why nobody wanted to tell him what media house Shadreck Manyere worked for, perhaps that’s because nobody trusts him. Would you want to provide the partisan Charamba with a rod for your back?
And, contrary to what he may think, it is not the function of the “state media”, as he called it, to “reflect the dominant ethos” in society. It is to give space to a variety of views in a professional manner that reflects the diversity of the nation. In other words the opposite of what is happening now on his watch. No more “dominant ethos” thanks. That’s old-school jargon.
Charamba told the parliamentary portfolio committee that his ministry was working on re-creating a positive image for Zimbabwe.
He should anticipate a little scepticism in this task given his previous pronouncements.

Evidence of Charamba’s malign influence can be found on the editorial pages of the Herald. Nothing much has changed there. Unrelenting attacks on civic activists persist while Shamu is busy claiming that the public media was exhibiting “exceptional professionalism” in providing coverage that contained “balance and fairness”.
Is there anybody out there apart from Shamu who seriously believes the public media is demonstrating “balance and fairness”?
On Tuesday, as Shamu was claiming “balance and fairness”, Eddie Cross was under siege on the editorial pages by unnamed columnists while David Samuriwo spat invective at Jenni Williams of Woza: “Civic groups such as Woza,” Samuriwo claimed, “have for the past decade survived on the back of people’s poverty claiming they were fighting for their rights.”
Woza has in fact over the past decade demonstrated extraordinary courage in the teeth of vicious retaliation by the state. Williams and her colleagues have been repeatedly incarcerated in filthy cells simply for exercising their right to call for improved social conditions.
Compare the record of Woza in struggling for people’s rights with that of cowards like Samuriwo who only attack from the comfortable fortress of the state.
Let’s see now whether in the interests of “balance and professional fairness” the Herald will allow Woza to reply to Samuriwo’s ignorant and scurrilous article.
Just for the record, here are some headings from the letters and editorial pages of the Herald which accompanied Shamu’s claims to “fairness and balance”.
“Sanctions, the priority”; “Gono cannot go before sanctions are lifted”; “We’re not stupid, Mr Cross”; “West’s double-talk rears ugly head”.
And that’s just for one day!

Still on the propaganda front, we were amused by the hype surrounding Tourism minister Walter Mzembi’s visit to Brazil. ZTA chief Karikoga Kaseke was quoted as saying “there was literally a scramble for Zimbabwe and we are still shocked by the response. The media was too much on us and perceptions have changed.”
Mzembi gave 96 interviews in two days, we are told. Kaseke gave 13.
But then the story began to fall apart.
“The BBC approached us and they wanted to come this week to market Zimbabwe tourism but we said stop, we need to deal with logistics first,” Kaseke said.
It needs to be pointed out that the BBC is not in the business of marketing countries. The nearest it comes is a travel programme called Fast Track which airs on a Monday night.
Kaseke claimed that Mzembi’s delegation was “mobbed” by the media. CNN, BBC, Sky News, Euro News, USA Today, Newsweek, Travel & Tourism magazine and Brazil’s RBS were among those interviewing Mzembi and Kaseke.
So let’s stay glued to the networks and magazines mentioned to see what comes out of this visit. It is safe to say it will be rather less than Kaseke thinks!

By the way, is the BBC still banned from Zimbabwe for what Charamba calls “representing political interests”? Now that they are being “re-engaged” can we safely assume those interests are no longer there?