Onslaught against free media continues

HARARE - The authorities' determination to extinguish alternative viewpoints was again illustrated by their continuing onslaught against the country's few remaining independent sources of information. The Standard (22/1) reported that the police had detained a former reporter of the banned Daily

News, Sydney Saize, for “three nights” on “suspicion of violating the draconian” media laws. The journalist was only released after his lawyer filed an urgent application “to compel the State to bring” him to court. Reportedly, the State was “dragging its feet” in taking the reporter to court on the grounds that “further investigations were under way”.

And as this report was being compiled the police charged six trustees of the privately run Voice of the People for violating the Broadcasting Services Act, which prohibits broadcasting without a licence (The Herald, SW Radio Africa and Studio 7, 25/1). The six were remanded on $4 million bail each.

Earlier, The Standard revealed that the police had “descended” on the homes of two of the trustees, Arnold Tsunga and Nhlanhla Ngwenya. According to the paper, when they could not locate the two they threatened to confiscate some of Ngwenya’s property and arrested two of Tsunga’s employees as “ransom”.

While private radio stations carried similar reports the next day, the government media completely ignored the incidents.

Such repressive acts, aimed terrorizing those still working in the media and shrinking the country’s media space, further exposes official claims that Zimbabwe is a ‘mature democracy’.

This week all media exposed the collapse of basic amenities in the country’s cities, characterised by water cuts, yawning potholes, dysfunctional street lighting and mounds of uncollected refuse. The government-controlled papers carried 36 stories on the issue, while the private Press published 19 reports. ZBH carried 51 stories and the private stations aired six.

However, the official papers’ coverage was marred by selective criticism of those behind the crumbling service delivery system in the country’s towns. For example, while these papers generally criticised the government-appointed Harare commission for failing to provide basic services for residents, they exonerated government from blame.

Instead, 14 of the 36 stories they carried on the matter were glowing pieces on government’s ad hoc interventionist role, purportedly aimed at restoring normal service delivery at many of the non-functioning municipalities.

The thrust in such coverage was illustrated by The Herald (16/1) comment, Minister Chombo does a sterling job, which simplistically presented Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo’s “recent intervention in urban local authorities” as driven by the desire to steer “the entities onto solid efficiency paths”.

Instead of questioning why government only acted against MDC led councils while turning a blind eye to those run by the ruling party, the paper simply claimed that the opposition mayors of Harare, Mutare and Chitungwiza had been dismissed for failing to deliver “and not because they belong to the MDC”. It thus urged Chombo to “just ignore detractors, who in their blinkered thinking, want everyone to believe that there is a purge on opposition-run municipalities”.

However, the paper’s lopsided interpretation of government action seemed to contradict its (19/1) editorial censure of the Harare Commission, accusing it of serious dereliction of duty. It “hoped” government would either force Harare’s administrators “to do their job” or replace them with “a new set of commissioners”.

The paper’s outrage followed its earlier revelations (17/1) that the commission was pushing government “to double the national debt so that it can lend the city almost $15,8 trillion to finance its turnaround programme, public lighting, waste management and road maintenance”.

The Sunday Mail (22/1) was equally critical of the city authorities’ poor management of Harare. It accused the commissioners of creating more health problems for the city by relocating the city’s main vegetable market from Mbare to Harare’s City Sports Centre.

However, ZBH did not display such candidness. The broadcaster simply highlighted problems bedevilling Harare without taking the authorities to task over the deteriorating situation. For example, it merely reported on the “persistent” and “unexplained” water cuts in Glen Norah, Glen View and Budiriro without seeking an explanation from the Harare commission (16/1, 8pm).

It was only through a Press conference addressed by Water Resources Minister Munacho Mutezo that ZBH audiences got a hint on the causes of the problem. Mutezo attributed the shortages to the commission’s failure to pay the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA) for water and the ongoing cleaning of Morton Jaffray water treatment plant.

No attempt was made to seek answers from the commission on why it had failed to pay ZINWA from rates it collected from residents. Neither did the station inquire why the commission had allowed “one metre thick” sludge to accumulate at Morton Jaffray. Instead, it supinely quoted Muchezo trying to shift the blame to “industry” and “commerce”, saying they should not “discharge effluent into water bodies”.

And to portray the authorities as taking measures to address the water crisis, Spot FM (16/1, 8pm) claimed government was “doing all it can” to ensure the availability of water. – Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe

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