Media threats sign of failure

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s misleading claim that the private media is blowing issues out of all proportion — undoubtedly triggered by the inconvenient coverage of Zanu PF’s internal strife and current economic implosion, as well as the shambles around us — is frankly ridiculous.

After his monumental blunder in which he read a wrong speech at the dramatic spectacle during the opening of parliament on Tuesday, further proving he is too old and must rest, Mugabe sought to divert attention from his fiasco by threatening journalists.

“You are thinking you can excite people who read so that they can buy your paper(s). No! The journalism we are experiencing is not the journalism we expect,” he said afterwards. “If we begin to take control now, rigid control, people should not cry foul.”

Now let’s say this upfront: We do not agree with what Mugabe said, but we will defend to death — without fear or favour — his right to say it, as French philosopher and writer Voltaire put it.

Mugabe is right journalists must be professional and ethical. The media indeed must report in an accurate, fair and balanced manner.

As the legendary Guardian (UK) founding editor, CP Scott wrote: “Comment is free, but facts are sacred.” This has endured as the ultimate statement of values for a free press and continues to underpin the traditions of newspapers like ours. But we reject the context and motive of his remarks. When he talks about “the journalism we expect”, he is talking of sycophantic reporting typical of ZBC and Zimpapers; the “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” template.

In line with his failed authoritarian project, Mugabe yearns for an Orwellian society where journalism amounts to praise-singing and official propaganda. How he still expects this in the social media age is beyond our comprehension. While we understand he may not be on Facebook or Twitter, like other modern leaders, surely he must know Stalinist control is no longer possible.

Let’s not forget this is the same Mugabe who wanted to establish a one-party state in Zimbabwe in 1980 and all its attendant evils, including cultivating a personality cult and being president for life. His role models are vile dictators whose legacies include broken countries, scarred and divided societies and grinding poverty.

This denotes a mindset and a brutal policy of draconian control over the media and society through deception, manipulation and fear — a police state.

If Mugabe has complaints against the media, he must follow the law and go to the courts, or pursue other appropriate channels. He mustn’t issue dark threats against journalists at hotels. It’s unedifying.

Of course, it’s clear he has been miffed by how journalists have been reporting the story of ex-vice-president Joice Mujuru. But the media isn’t responsible for the Zanu PF power struggles. He is refusing to name a successor, nobody else.

Mugabe doesn’t like the succession debate because it exposes him. The media didn’t create the problem. He did. Mugabe is also evidently annoyed by systematic scrutiny of his disastrous record since 1980, more so after his disputed re-election in 2013. But we reject his ominous threats, which are a sign of failure and a distraction.