HomeCommentEditor's Memo:Shamu’s astounding dereliction of duty

Editor’s Memo:Shamu’s astounding dereliction of duty

ASTOUNDING is the word that aptly describes Media and Information minister Webster Shamu’s response to proposals made by Zanu PF zealots that journalists and cartoonists who portray President Robert Mugabe in a bad light should be hanged.

Shamu told our sister newspaper, NewsDay, that Zanu PF activists agitating for a clause in the new constitution to hang journalists for exposing Mugabe’s policy incompetence and inadequacies were entitled to express their views whatever they were.
The minister even had the cheek to challenge journalists to ask the activists why they had made that proposal during the constitution-making outreach programme, instead of seeking his comment.
Shamu’s behaviour is a clear abdication of his duty and mandate as the minister in charge of media. Instead of taking the opportunity to castigate such unruly conduct in his party — by those calling for the imposition of a death sentence on journalists who would be exercising their oversight role on the president on behalf of the public — the former disc jockey tacitly endorsed the activists’ proposal, no doubt  for the sake of endearing himself to the ageing Mugabe.
Hate speech, especially targeted at journalists, should not be allowed in a country which claims to be a democracy and Shamu should know better. Media freedom is not only a fundamental right, but also a basic necessity in a society which has presumably moved on from the Dark Ages. Those who are against an open and free media are not only hostile to the democratic ethos, but are enemies of a society which demands transparency and accountability in the way it is governed.
As Media and Information minister, Shamu should have issued a public statement condemning the activists’ proposal meant to stifle and silence the media. He should have dismissed such suggestions with the contempt they deserve. They were disgraceful and dangerous.
In March, Mugabe met editors from various media stables and spoke of the need for an open media to uphold the inalienable right to a free press. But we cannot have a free press when journalists are arrested, tortured, threatened and some of them hounded out of the country for merely criticising Mugabe’s style of governance which has reduced this country to a basket case.
Constitutions are not crafted to deal with current issues like entrenching Mugabe’s dictatorship and other challenges, but for posterity. Why should Mugabe be treated like a demi-God?
We challenge Shamu to issue a public statement condemning the Zanu PF zealots, and clearly state that government will uphold press freedom.
The minister should, as a matter of urgency, demonstrate his sincerity on media reforms — about which he likes to talk — so as to build a nation whose foundation is copper-bottomed in an unfettered press.
On another note the country’s electronic media has been dominated by the publicly-owned, but state-controlled ZBC since Independence and it’s now time that the monopoly came to an end.
The Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (Baz) should issue broadcasting licences to private players for plurality in the airwaves. The country desperately needs more radio and television stations to educate, inform and entertain the public for the betterment of the nation.
Issuing of electronic media licences should only be done after the Baz board has been reconstituted to get rid of media hangmen like Tafataona Mahoso who currently chairs it. Mahoso’s legacy, in regards to the print media over the last decade, is well documented and a person of such disposition should not be allowed near any institution to do with the media.
Government should also immediately abrogate or amend draconian laws that unduly restrict media freedom and plurality, among them the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, Public Order and Security Act, Broadcasting Services Act, Official Secrets Act, Prisons Act, Censorship and Control of Entertainments Act, Courts and Adjudicating Authorities (Public Restrictions) Act, the Privileges, Immunities and Powers of Parliament Act, and the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.
That’s just for starters.



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