THEOPPY Ncube (TN) of the Financial Gazette had an opportunity to interview Geoffrey Nyarota (GN), the chairperson of the Information and Media Panel of Inquiry (IMPI), about progress made so far by the four-month inquiry established by the Minister of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services, Jonathan Moyo. Here are excerpts of the interview:
TN: So far what are the findings showing?
GN: Zimbabweans, wherever we have gone, have voiced serious concerns about the content of newspapers, radio and television. They have condemned the political polarisation that has bedevilled the practice of journalism over the years.
They have demanded that Zimbabwe’s media laws be reformed in order to align certain laws, such as Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, with the provisions of the new Constitution. There has been an overwhelming demand for the licensing of community radio stations. We cannot provide a more detailed or comprehensive account of our findings at this stage without running the risk of pre-empting the official report that we are preparing to submit to the Ministry of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services in due course. Such premature disclosure could create friction within the media in so far as some specific complaints or very adverse comments are repeatedly being raised by the people against some specific media houses.
TN: Are the inquiries going on as scheduled?
GN: Yes the inquiries are being conducted as scheduled, even though the schedule has had to be expanded as we go along to include areas that have been specifically requested for inclusion by residents and other interested parties. This was to be expected. For example, as we travelled around Matabeleland North there was an outcry that Plumtree and Gwanda were not on our itinerary. The same happened
TN: Skepticism has been expressed over Jonathan Moyo’s intentions in setting up IMPI. What are your own views as chairperson?
GN: My own belief is that, genuinely cognisant of the state of Zimbabwe’s media over the years, coupled with the less than satisfactory practice of journalism, the Minister was motivated to establish IMPI in order to grant the people of Zimbabwe a rare opportunity to fix the information and media industry. He cannot suddenly seek to reverse that process without damaging his political credentials irreparably and undermining the image of government. Incidentally, the fact that impi is the Ndebele word for war is sheer coincidence. If there is any suggestion of combat in our campaign it is the fight against unethical and unprofessional journalism, much in the same way as nations have waged wars against poverty or illiteracy.
TN: Are there any unexpected or unanticipated developments?
GN: The programme has mostly gone according to plan but, yes, there have been some unexpected or unanticipated developments occasionally. In Matabeleland North we held unscheduled meetings in Plumtree and Jotsholo in response to demand. Though unannounced the two meetings were fairly well-attended and successful. A similar meeting in Inyathi was thwarted by the police who said they had not been informed in advance. In Harare province a meeting scheduled for the eastern suburb of Mabvuku experienced the poorest attendance so far. We blamed the poor attendance on poor mobilisation. We were also informed that one of the social media outlets had announced on the Internet that the Mabvuku meeting had been cancelled. While the media, both print as well as radio and television have been supportive in terms of disseminating information and advertisements about the activities of IMPI, regrettably, there were occasional reports that were either false or outright misrepresentations. This incident provided a fine example of the misrepresentation that members of the public have complained about at most of our meetings.
TN: Are resources and synergies well within the team?
GN: We remain well within our resources, although the stretching of our outreach programme and the additional advertising have caused some budgetary concerns. The IMPI team is large, being 28 panelists and seven programme officers, to make a total of 35 knowledgeable and dynamic personalities. They include lawyers and the country’s top journalists, most of them editors and media trainers. The scope for difference of opinion or approach is, therefore, vast. That diversity of experience and intellect is, however, one of the strengths of the IMPI team as they prepare to draft the report and the recommendations that will help to shape Zimbabwe’s information and media industry of the future.
TN: What still remains to be done? Is the time frame enough?
GN: The IMPI outreach programme is far from complete. We have been to Manicaland, Matabeleland from Binga through Bulawayo to Beitbridge, part of Masvingo, part of the Midlands, as well as Harare Province. This week we are covering Mashonaland West. We still have Mashonaland East and Central, and parts of Masvingo going all way the down to Chiredzi, and the Midlands to traverse. We still have ahead of us the mammoth task of communicating with the major media stakeholders. They include the publishing companies and the television and radio stations, the media training institutions and the multitude of media organisations. The advertising industry is a significant stakeholder in the media. There is a fledgling film industry which is currently seeking a voice. We will seek dialogue with representatives of the donor community, who have played a significant role in shaping Zimbabwe’s media landscape, mainly through funding of training and other media initiatives. The task ahead is enormous, but by no means insurmountable.
TN: How independent is the body?
GN: Yes, IMPI has largely remained independent of the Ministry of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services in terms of implementation of its outreach programme. Exceptions to this rule have inevitably been in the areas of logistic arrangements such as transport and hiring of venues.