MEDIA, Information and Broadcasting Services minister Jonathan Moyo, who has been on a charm offensive which has seen him tour the country’s various media houses in an engagement bid, revealed that there is need to discuss what constitutes “national interest”.
Moyo has since his re-appointment clearly stated the media should uphold the constitution and operate in line with the new constitution as espoused in the preamble and Section 3.
Section 3 of the new constitution speaks to the founding values and principles of the state, which include supremacy of the constitution, the rule of law and recognition of and respect for the liberation struggle, while among other things the preamble states that “we, the people of Zimbabwe, cherishing freedom, equality, peace, justice, tolerance, prosperity and patriotism in search of new frontiers under a common destiny …”
Moyo told Alpha Media Holdings management last week that: “Surely, when we engage we should be able to agree on some fundamental things, on some important things. Some important and fundamental things about the national interest and some important and fundamental things about business interests and then hopefully, in that process, we find each other. That’s the purpose of engagement.
“Government is informed by the pursuit of common good, the national interest. We should be able to contribute together towards a national ethos which can be the basis of dealing with some of the challenges faced by the media.”
Moyo emphasised the need for the media to put national interest first and contribute to the development of the country.
In sync with Moyo, a Herald columnist, Nathaniel Manheru, widely believed to be Information ministry permanent secretary George Charamba, last Saturday wrote that Zanu PF has no choice but to pursue its liberation struggle ideals and values while cognisant of this new, neo-liberal appetite already cultivated by years of MDC agitation.
“To bury the inclusive government is not quite the same as dispensing with inclusive, consultative politics,” Manheru wrote.
“This is why Jonathan Moyo is right to embrace the private media so he is better able to advance the values of the struggle which, fortunate enough for him, are now a constitutional imperative.”
Whatever the definition of “national interest”, there is an argument that government should not be left to determine the national narrative alone using only Zanu PF ideology.
Analysts argue that media houses should be pro-active and contribute in defining the term “national interest”, and also what is meant by “in recognition of and respect for the liberation struggle”.
Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe director and media analyst Takura Zhangazha says media stakeholders should be wary since it appears that for Moyo, Section 3 in particular will be the one through which all other sections such as Section 61 on freedom of expression must also be interpreted.
Zhangazha argues: “A better departure point to these matters of interpretation would be to at least find emphasis in the universality of these rights for all Zimbabweans, regardless of our varying interpretations of them, while leaving it up to the Constitutional Court to decide on final interpretation, if the need arises. So as it is, while the ministry may have its own views, it must respect the right of stakeholders to have and enjoy differing perceptions of the same in terms of Section 61 of the constitution.”
He added: “And it helps to be seen to be getting off on a good and consultative initial footing. The same said ‘good footing’ departure also has the unfortunate tendency to cloud real issues in benevolent camaraderie.”
Media Institute of Southern Africa Zimbabwe chapter director Nhlanhla Ngwenya concurs with Zhangazha, saying government should not be left alone to define this term which will determine the operations of the media. Ngwenya said the national narrative has since Independence in 1980 been adulterated to refer to Zanu PF positions and ideology.
“It is quite important that we find a common meaning of that term — recognition of and respect for the liberation struggle,” Ngwenya said. “We need a clear-cut definition or otherwise the media may be unjustly accused of violating these values.”
“It is a scary provision that can be abused for narrow political interest and can also be used to have the media report using the same tone and language.”
Zimbabwe Democracy Institute chairperson Rashweat Mukundu says the new thrust will be tested by how the media responds to the ministry’s definition of national values.
“Ultimately, the media’s respect and adherence to national values as stated is dependent on how Moyo and his team will behave and if the media is left to operate freely and expose bad governance,” argues Mukundu.
Analysts agree that there is need to find a common definition of the term “recognition of and respect for the liberation struggle” to ensure it does not become a source of conflict between government and the media, and should be thoroughly debated and understood so that it is not abused for partisan political interests.
However, for now, there appears to be hope following Moyo’s engagement efforts that the newly-found camaraderie between the media and the ministry will create opportunities for policy reforms that the media organisations have been pushing for, and a better future for a truly pluralistic media industry.