ALTHOUGH media houses whom the Minister of Media, Information and Broadcasting Services Jonathan Moyo has engaged over the past few weeks have been ‘sweetened and softened’ by his apparent extending of the proverbial olive branch, media non-governmental organisations want more than just tours of publishing houses before they can be won over.
The past 14 years have seen the media of Zimbabwe polarised along political lines, with some members of the journalistic profession accused of acting like activists.
The bridge between the State-owned and the privately-owned media widened over the years as political tensions in the country worsened.
Following the first real challenge to the revolutionary party at the turn of the millennium (1999-2000) by the founding of the opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change, the ruling ZANU-PF on a quest to tighten its grip on power evoked, and in some instances introduced, legislation which sought to muzzle journalists from the independent press and, as some say, criminalise the media profession.
During Moyo’s tenure as minister between 2000 and 2004, he presided over the closure of a number of private media houses including the Daily News.
From then to even just before the harmonised elections on July 31, Moyo had been on a collision course with the private media. Many a times, over the past few years, he had gone on the offensive letting loose some vituperative diatribes against some members of the private media.
Following his return to the ministry last month, Moyo who immediately convened an all stakeholders’ meeting, has been extending the olive branch to the private media. He has sought to engage them collectively and individually, even including them on his tours of media houses.
During his tours of media houses, Moyo has spoken of the importance of engagement and promised to bridge the gap between government and the private media as part of efforts to de-polarise and develop the media.
While media houses have cosied up to Moyo, civic media organisations say they need to see more before they can be convinced.
“The consultation, engagement and depolarisation which Moyo has been speaking of since returning to the ministry are good values. I just hope he is genuine. I hope he is doing it in good faith,” said Patience Zirima, coordinator for the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ). MAZ is a coalition of several media organisations united in defence of free expression. The coalition which has for years been advocating for media reform.
Zirima said Moyo’s turn around gesture is somewhat difficult to fathom.
“It’s hard to think that just a few years ago —and even just before elections — he had a different stance. We are, however, pleased with this development. It is good because we need a change in the media. We need government intervention to allow for more players in the media. We need more broadcasters, we need diversity, among other things.”
Zirima also expressed hope that the processes would be transparent and above board when the ministry issues out more broadcasting licenses, a development which Moyo has said is coming soon.
Like Zirima, Nyasha Nyakunu, currently acting national director of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zimbabwe chapter, said his organisation welcomed the change in approach but hoped that more would come from the minister’s overtures.
“The minister’s overtures are most welcome and we hope that they will have a cascading effect of depolarising the media. We also hope that he will meet with us so we can raise our issues with him. We would like him to meet with us either separately as MISA, ZUJ (Zimbabwe Union of Journalists) etc or collectively under the MAZ umbrella, ” Nyakunu said.
He said his organisation and partners’ submissions to the minister would include the call for an environment conducive to a free and diverse media.
“We would also like to see a re-alignment of media laws with the new Constitution in terms of the provision of access to information and media freedom. This is part of our submissions to the minister when we meet him. His overtures should not just end with the publishing houses,” Nyakunu said.