HomeCommentCandid Comment: Muzzling the press will boomerang on Copac

Candid Comment: Muzzling the press will boomerang on Copac

THE Constitutional Parliamentary Committee (Copac)’s order barring journalists from reporting on official proceedings of the outreach programme threatens to return Zimbabwe to the dark days of muzzling the media.

Copac’s fears that news reports on official proceedings would influence the content of the planned new constitution ring hollow. The outreach programme is one of the most critical processes in the constitution- making project. Public views gathered from this process are expected to form the core content of this country’s new governance charter. Conducting such an important process under the cover of darkness would be criminal and further dents Zimbabweans’ waning trust in Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and President Robert Mugabe’s union.

Why Copac would want to keep views expressed by the public under wraps fuels suspicion that some underhand political dealings are at play. And this government’s record of abandoning legitimate processes for under-the-table dealings makes it all the more frightening. The inclusion in the Zimbabwe Media Commission of people who failed parliamentary select committee interviews held in the presence of journalists is instructive.

Already several journalists have been barred from covering some of the outreach meetings which spells doom for fair and factual coverage of the outreach process. Without official access to information, journalists will resort to sourcing stories from politicians, most of whom are obviously biased.  The results could be disastrous.

The constitution-making process, a key project in laying the foundation for stabilising the country’s polarised population, is worryingly a complete mess. Banning journalists from reporting on this shambolic exercise only compounds the problem.

The violence, intimidation and imposition of views recorded during the first two weeks of this critical process have not come as a surprise to many. The media and civil society had forecast this situation.

It was only too predictable, especially following the dismal failure of the chair-warming national healing organ to drive a meaningful programme to heal the wounds inflicted on the population as a result of decades of state-sponsored violence.

Much of the chaos affecting the outreach programme could have been avoided if Copac had taken the media and civil society’s warnings more seriously. But then these politicians don’t learn.

Muzzling the press will not change the reality that this process has been hijacked for political expediency and that horse-trading between Zanu PF and the two MDC factions is inevitable. Zimbabwean journalists have for the past decade been working in one of the world’s most difficult and dangerous environments, characterised by violence, intimidation and arrests and exclusion from official events.

The coalition government or at least its formation had filtered hope that the
media environment would change. Copac’s blackout dims this hope, and renews fears that Zimbabwean authorities prefer to keep the population in the dark. Copac joint chairman Paul Munyaradzi Mangwana, as a former Information minister, should know better than to stop journalists from covering events. That is their job.

Partners in this failing coalition government tried something similar when they were negotiating the power-sharing arrangement. The result was unbalanced, uninformed and distorted reporting that did not help Zimbabweans one bit.

By Farai Mutsaka

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