WHEN Media, Information and Broad-casting Services Minister Jonathan Moyo was appointed into the new government, he said he felt like hitting the ground running.
For a man who once occupied a seat near the centre of power, only to fall from grace in 2004, before strategising for a second coming, it was hardly surprising that he went into the job with verve and great vitality.
What has been puzzling to some, though welcome, has been his attempts to reach out to all and sundry in the media, a marked departure from the abrasive and unyielding politician who presided over the same ministry between 2000 and 2004.
Moyo’s display of political brashness, his habit then to rub the media the wrong way, his irascible responses to divergent views, summed up the doggedness that showed in his every political move for four years before he was sacked by President Robert Mugabe through a fax message.
Within those four years, newspapers were closed, journalists harassed, intimidated and arrested, while independent television and radio stations were denied space as the State monopoly on the airwaves continued and his perceived revulsion of media freedoms flourished.
But now, Moyo’s mandate has begun on a different and unanticipated note demostrated through the process of consultative engagement with media parastatals management and those in the private sector holding different views.
Thus, the Information Minister’s latest decision to meet face-to-face with representatives from unregistered radio stations, newspapers and freelance journalists many of whom were thrown onto the streets during his first ministerial posting was unexpected to some of the victims of his earlier policies.
Moyo, together with his deputy Supa Mandiwanzira, has also held separate meetings with publishers such as media mogul Trevor Ncube who emerged from one such indaba to declare to the world that he was impressed by how accessible and candid “the two gentlemen were.”
The minister’s meetings with public and private media players both in Harare and Bulawayo ushered a new era of consultations that are in every respect out of sync with the character of a decade ago.
This week, freelance journalist Christopher Mahove who attended Moyo’s Harare meeting proffered his thoughts on a man who will lead the information industry for the next five years.
“I think he is a changed man, judging from the way he spoke. I don’t know if he was not politicking, but he sounded conciliatory and ready to work with us,” said Mahove.
Despite Moyo’s latest efforts, some are advising caution saying it is too early to say the days of the government’s media clampdown are over.
One of them is media analyst, Brighton Musonza, who said inconsistencies in the minister’s application and methods makes it hard to trust him.
As an example of his pointed prevarication was Moyo’s call for State media parastatals to defend the new Constitution, yet the minister continuously trashed the new charter when it was being crafted and branded the parliamentary committee that was putting it together as the “COPAC Mafia”.
“These are the things in his baggage that make it difficult for many to trust his word. All the laws he crafted are still in place and the State media is still running in election campaign mode. The biggest challenge for Moyo is to change the ZANU-PF line of propaganda which labels political opponents as Western agents. I don’t see that in him,” said Musonza.
There is also that dark and messy past that some feel he must first clean up.
So many lost their jobs, with the unlucky ones going into destitution, while others were forced into exile all because of the previous repressive media environment under him.
“Moyo cannot just walk in and say, hey let’s be good mates again before making a public apology and explain his many changes of tone,” added Musonza.
During the life of the inclusive government, there were two distinct groups within ZANU-PF, the moderates who were amiable to change and the hardliners who were inimical to any reforms whether constitutional, security, media or otherwise.
Moyo belonged to the latter group accused even by some ZANU-PF members such as COPAC co-chairperson Munyaradzi Mangwana of atte-mpting to sink the new charter.
On Monday, political analyst Gideon Chita-nga, said although there is pressure for the ZANU-PF Cabinet to look progressive, any suggestions for serious reforms will not be taken lightly by those who wield power, and as Moyo appears stuck with the hardliners, it is questionable if he will deliver on media reforms.
“If anything, we are likely to see more concentration of the media in the hands of the State, or those closely aligned to it particularly in the broadcasting sector especially for TV and radio for the purposes of propaganda instead of progressive societal engagement that rests on a diversity of voices and visions,” said Chitanga.
But despite the misgivings in some quarters, media groups are working to engage the minister over reforms.
Last Saturday, the Zimbabwe National Editors Forum (ZINEF) met to chart the way forward. ZINEF deputy president, Njabulo Ncube, said the revision of media laws to realign them with the Constitution remains on the agenda, among other issues.
“We are not trying to reinvent the wheel, but to oil the wheel,” said Ncube.
The Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe advocacy manager Molly Chimhanda presented an analysis on the state of the media pre and post-election period at the ZINEF gathering.
Chimhanda said elections were gone and Zimbabwe’s media needs to get out of election mode. She urged the media to push for transparency, measure ZANU-PF against its manifesto and sincerity in delivery.
“Let’s expand our views beyond the political arena. There are issues that are important to Zimbabweans beyond ZANU-PF and MDC. The media is supposed to safeguard the cause of society and societal cause is not based solely on the political arena,” said Chimhanda.