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Shamu attacks public media reforms

MEDIA, Information and Publicity minister Webster Shamu has attacked inter-party negotiators over public media reforms in a move which betrayed his growing fear of losing control of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) and Zimpapers.

Shamu’s remarks also demonstrate divisions within Zanu PF over the need to reform the partisan public media to ensure they operate independently of his ministry and in the public interest.

The Zimbabwe Independent reported in December that Zanu PF was divided over media reforms and Shamu’s remarks this week confirmed this.

The Information ministry has a long history of blatant interference at ZBC and Zimpapers. The two companies have been turned into exclusive propaganda mouthpieces for Zanu PF despite being public media which should serve the diverse interests of Zimbabweans.

The ministry’s meddling in Zimpapers has been widely described as unlawful since the newspaper chain is a public listed company with its own directors and shareholders. The dysfunctional Mass Media Trust holds 51% on behalf of the Zimbabwean public. The remaining 49% is owned by different shareholders.

In a move which shocked those supporting the democratic and media reform agenda, Shamu publicly said he was opposed to the current public media changes. Delivering a speech to mark World Press Freedom Day on Monday, Shamu, who is also Zanu PF secretary for the commissariat, described the reforms already agreed to by Zanu PF, MDC-T and MDC-M negotiators as “one giant step backwards”.

“I am quite appalled by proposals on the media which are being suggested by our negotiators under the GPA. Their present proposals which fortunately for us, are still to be debated by principals, are one giant step backwards in terms of freeing the media and improving working environment for journalists,” he said.

Negotiators Patrick Chinamasa and Nicholas Goche (Zanu PF), Tendai Biti and Elton Mangoma (MDC-T) and Welshman Ncube and Priscillah Misihairabwi-Mushonga (MDC-M) last month agreed on significant changes on how ZBC and Zimpapers should operate.

Shamu and like-minded Zanu PF officials are opposed to the reforms because he will be left redundant if his interference in ZBC and Zimpapers is stopped.

Some of the reforms which were agreed to by the negotiators are contained in the latest report on talks and include:

  • ZBC shall be converted into a public broadcaster with an independent board appointed by the president from a list given to him by the SROC of Parliament under provisions to be developed by the parties and which shall be similar to those relating to ZEC, the Human Rights Commission and the Media Commission. (subject to consultation on the appointment of members)
  • The board shall be responsible for the general management and running of ZBC.
  • The Mass Media Trust Board of Trustees shall be immediately reconstituted in terms of the provisions of the Trust Deed.
  • The Board of Trustees should thereafter play its role and exercise the powers vested in it in terms of the Trust Deed.
  • That the Deed of Trust be available to the negotiators and thereafter further discussions to take place on how the Board could be reconstituted in an inclusive manner consistent with the Trust Deed.

While progressive media groups and journalists welcomed the proposed changes, Shamu claimed they were “divisive and discriminatory”.

“They undermine the work of constitutional bodies put in place to regulate media issues. They undermine my ministry by seeking to relocate its functions to these negotiators. Above all they go against the foundational principle of freeing the media from political meddling and control. We do not support these proposals and have made it known”, he said.

Ncube defended the reforms, saying the three principals to the GPA, President Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Mutambara would implement the changes which were endorsed by all the negotiators.

“There are no proposals on media reforms from the negotiators,” said Ncube. “These are agreements which were made by all the three parities to the Global Political Agreement and if anyone thinks otherwise, they are gravely mistaken. The agreement on that issue will be implemented by the three parties. Nothing which has been agreed is a step backwards. The reforms are designed to ensure that no single party can control both private and public media. They also seek to bring independence to the public media by ensuring that those who run them should be loyal to Zimbabwe and not political parties.”

 

Bernard Mpofu

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