INFORMATION minister Jonathan Moyo, his deputy Supa Mandiwanzira and permanent secretary George Charamba last week met media representatives at their Harare offices to exchange notes and ideas on media issues.
Editor’s Memo with Dumisani Muleya
Moyo yesterday also held a similar meeting in Bulawayo. This followed his recent return to the ministry where he had a controversial tenure between 2000 and 2005 at the height of Zimbabwe’s political and economic meltdown.
During the period media relations became poisoned as politicians tried to control images and ideas in the media, either by carefully managing interactions through brazen interference or repressive methods to influence the politics of the day.
So when Moyo bounced back, it appears everyone was ready to say never again because of the untold damage inflicted on and through the media, with a serious impact on society.
Of course, despite the rapprochement some are saying, clear your heads, pause and think, and stop fantasising, nothing will change.
However, evidence from last week’s meeting suggests we can, but to see how, first we need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
During last week’s meeting profound and varied issues spanning the vast landscape of the growing media ecosystem were raised by professional journalists who share the sphere with tweeters, bloggers, citizen journalists, and social media users, as well as other stakeholders.
The issues related to the operating environment, regulation, pluralism and diversity, standards and training, content, welfare, and the political economy of the media, over and above the national question –– that is how journalists handle issues which impinge on the national interest, whatever the definition.
There were, however, also some disturbing and unhelpful issues which arose, from the lunatic fringe to borrow a phrase liberally used in the meeting, when some participants pleaded with the minister for more regulation and interventionist measures on a whole range of issues, including on TV decoders and advertising.
But to his credit, Moyo picked up the creepy ideas and politely dismissed them as they evidently went against the grain. For instance, he didn’t buy into the idea that some local content aggregators could source and distribute the same content, including the English Premier League, provided by MultiChoice, South Africa’s media behemoth which operates DStv, the largest satellite television service in sub-Saharan Africa, at cheaper prices.
Despite such aberrations and self-serving noises by some media dinosaurs and old fashioned journalists seeking relevance in the midst of a fast-changing and bewildering digital media revolution, there seemed to be convergence on most critical issues.
The only area of disquiet was on Moyo’s reference to the founding values and principles in the new constitution on which he only cited the need to “recognise and respect the liberation struggle”, saying, rather in jest, not doing so would be “unconstitutional”!
To this some journalists said there was nothing wrong with that as long as other listed tenets like the rule of law, human rights and freedoms, nation’s cultural diversity, gender equality and good governance, for instance, were also upheld.
Otherwise it was a good meeting. It seemed most people were keen to embrace a paradigm shift and post-partisan culture based on principle and mutual respect.
But a reality check is critical at this stage: politicians and the media are fated to be locked perpetually in a loveless embrace. So the key issue then is how to maintain and sustain a civilised, progressive and professional relationship without descending into partisanship and barbarism in our different duties and interactions.
Can we capitalise on this momentum to create a new way of doing things –– in keeping with our needs, hopes and aspirations –– or let the opportunity slip through our fingers?