Media repression and useful idiots

THE arrest this week of state-controlled weekly Sunday Mail editor Mabasa Sasa and two reporters for allegedly “publishing falsehoods” over a poaching story showed that media repression has fiercely resurfaced.

Editor’s Memo by Dumisani Muleya

As we hurtle towards the 2018 elections and President Robert Mugabe’s potentially tragic endgame, the battle for the hearts and minds will intensify, especially in a volatile environment characterised by toxic leadership and policy failures. The explosive economic situation fuels instability and insecurity.

Of late there has been a renewed systematic campaign of intimidation and threats mainly targeted at private media journalists. The arrest of Sasa and his reporters though simply proved all journalists are under threat.

Arresting journalists for merely doing their job — not on strictly criminal matters — has a chilling effect on media. It creates a climate of fear and perpetuates impunity.

Dozens of journalists in Zimbabwe, mainly from the private media, have been charged in the past for “publishing falsehoods”, but the cases collapsed in courts.

Some of those currently at the forefront of attacking journalists over alleged partisan reporting include Mugabe, his wife Grace, Zanu PF spokesman Simon Khaya Moyo and presidential mouthpiece George Charamba.

Journalists have been bombarded through incoherent innuendos, sophomoric claims, sophistry — cunning but false arguments — and simply ridiculous allegations, but none of the media bullies or their accomplices have so far been able to say what their issue really is. What we do know, however, is that their agenda is political.

Yet they have only managed to expose their hypocrisy as they condemn alleged biased reporting, while standing on partisan platforms. Zanu PF politicians have destroyed the public media through brazen political interference and inept propaganda, while their henchmen are guilty of collaboration. It’s incredible how people who preside over a hopelessly partisan state-controlled media empire have the chutzpah to complain about alleged partisan reporting by others. It’s hypocrisy writ large.

So in short we are dealing with hypocrites here. The kind of politicians who would cut down a tree, then stand on its stump to make a speech on conservation.

Mugabe and his publicists have been assisted in all this by accident or design by some veteran journalists like former editor of several newspapers Geoff Nyarota and state-controlled daily Herald deputy editor Joram Nyathi, a former colleague.

Besides, Nyarota and Nyathi — both very good journalists when not hawking their self-serving and snake-oil views on media — there are many other journalists aiding and abetting authorities’ new campaign of media repression, deliberately or unwittingly.

Australian-based Herald columnist Reason Wafawarova has also waded into the debate, but maintained his false claim Nyathi was removed from the Zimbabwe Independent for his views on land reform and sanctions.

Nyathi last week wrote a scandalous piece on media in the Herald full of sweeping generalisations and inflammatory allegations which can’t stand the test of scrutiny. While pretending to be advising Zanu PF to be restrained on its reaction to “provocations”, his framework was venomously political and partisan, hence gushing praises from Charamba.

If you are a serious journalist and you always get unstinting tributes from a cantankerous spin-doctor notorious for being a polemicist, you must know there is something wrong with what you are doing. Politicians and journalists are always uneasy bedfellows. For centuries satirical novelists have dramatised that.

The galaxy of fierce barbarians at the gates include useful innocents, that is confused and misguided regime sympathisers, and useful idiots, advocates for a cause whose motives they don’t fully understand, or those cynically used by authorities.

Well, Nyarota sometimes has legitimate issues, but badly presents them through his unfortunate holier-than-thou approach. There is also the problem that he remains miserably handcuffed to the past at a time when a media revolution is transforming, fundamentally and irrevocably, the nature of journalism and its ethics. We need enlightened debate, not polemics, on these issues.

The Information Media Panel of Inquiry report is a good guide.

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