WITH critical elections inexorably drawing closer, Zimbabwe is hurtling down a familiar path as the usual suspects, Zanu PF, marshals its formidable state machinery against those perceived to be working against its interests.
Candid Comment with Stewart Chabwinja
As part of the party’s trademark crackdown integral to its poll preparations, this week our editor Dumisani Muleya and chief reporter Owen Gagare were arrested and charged with contravening the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act allegedly for publishing falsehoods.
Needless to say this is a clear case of harassment from the Zanu PF-aligned state machinery quick to resort to an array of weapons that include Aippa, Posa, the Official Secrets Act and Criminal Law Act to clamp down on the private media, civil society and other progressive forces. Our “crime” is simple: honouring our pledge to shine a light in dark places, scrutinise the executive and hold the powerful to account in the public interest.
Despite the private media’s adherence to media ethics through well-sourced stories and affording those concerned the right of reply, the state’s hostility towards us is being ratcheted up, with reporters at our sister paper, NewsDay, being summoned by police last week over their stories.
This was just part of a broader clampdown whose repressive script also features the seizure this week of 15 poll campaign bikes belonging to the MDC-T and attacks on civic groups.
Contrast this to the fact the state media — part of the formidable pro-Zanu PF state apparatus — appears to have the licence to malign those opposed to the interests of Zanu PF and President Robert Mugabe without risking arrest.
We are not calling for the arrest or harassment of our state media colleagues, but it is inconceivable that they have never fallen foul of the draconian media laws like us.
The ritualistic suppression of pro-democracy forces which includes systematic onslaught against the private media and all dissenting voices is as futile as it is anachronistic in an age when cyberspace and the social media have rapidly expanded the frontiers of freedom of expression beyond our wildest dreams.
Ancient repressive laws meant to muzzle the media will fail; cyberspace has no respect for national boundaries with information spreading in real-time while preserving anonymity.
The bad news for regimes and despots whose continued reign is innately tied to their ability to misinform their subjects or keep them in the throes of darkness and ignorance is that the digital tide is irresistible.
With digital revolution, repressive regimes stuck in a time warp are increasingly powerless to control what their people watch, read or listen to, and hence their thoughts. The Arab Spring immediately comes to mind.
True to form, some of Zimbabwe’s political elite appear to have drawn no lessons from the WikiLeaks exposé which unmasked them as hypocrites, despite their oft-reprised claims of patriotism and allegiance to party leaders. It is the same hypocrites who wish to set the agenda for the private media by dictating the national interest and what should be published. It won’t work.