Media can’t bow to whims of politicians

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ZIMBABWE’S private media has come under a barrage of attacks from Zanu PF, led by President Robert Mugabe, his wife Grace, who is leader of the ruling party’s Women’s League and Presidential spokesperson George Charamba.

Candid Comment by Faith Zaba

When Mugabe read a wrong speech during the official opening of parliament last month, he vented his anger on the private media, threatening unspecified action.

Charamba weighed in last week with a rather weird complaint that the private media is reporting factionalism ad infinitum, saying Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa this and Grace that. Even if it were true, has it suddenly become criminal to report on Zanu PF factionalism? Since when has this constituted an ethical problem to court the ire of the President’s Office?

Charamba further threatened a media onslaught through introducing new draconian laws. At a rally in Rushinga, Mashonaland Central, on Wednesday, Grace joined the bandwagon threatening the press, accusing private media journalists of fanning factionalism and deliberately tarnishing her image. Grace accused the media of writing rubbish, saying journalists need to be assessed by “psychologists” to determine if their minds are “right”.

She also said a lot of strange things, including insulting private media journalists’ innocent mothers. It was really in bad taste.

Politicians must let the media perform its watchdog role without hindrance. If any problems exist, the private press is not immune to complaints and the courts are there.

However, Mugabe, Grace and Charamba’s complaints this time are simply baseless. They are just trying to pick a fight to divert attention from factionalism and succession battles rapturing the ruling party and the economic implosion. For Charamba to state that there are no factions in Zanu PF post-December but personality clashes, is not only disingenuous but also ridiculous.

Isn’t it a fact that Mugabe and his wife are always moaning Zanu PF factionalism? Just last week, Grace threatened those that engage in factionalism with another political tsunami, similar to last year’s ahead of the party congress, which saw senior party officials, including former vice-president Joice Mujuru, expelled. She told them to “stop it forthwith”. How can you stop something which does not exist?

On the Grace health issue, Mugabe and her spoke publicly about it. Was the media lying when it said they had been to Singapore for medical treatment?

Politicians must understand journalists are not there to pander to their whims and caprices but to do their legitimate job. Credibility is the media’s currency. When politicians intervene, all it does is to strengthen media’s resolve to report even more accurately and fairly, not be ruled by fear.

It is ironic that people like Charamba complain about biased coverage when they preside over partisan and monolithic media houses like Zimpapers and ZBC.

There is no question about the need to guard jealously ethical standards, but it is not for politicians, who have vested interests, to dictate how journalists should operate.

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