Mubabe allies reject media reform (23-11-06)

HARARE - President Robert Mugabe's media control unit, the Media and Information Commission, MIC, has begun a new onslaught on journalists in Zimbabwe, a country dubbed as one of the worst countries in which to work as a journalist.
The move by top Mugabe loyalists is aimed at derailing efforts b

y the independent Media Alliance of Zimbabwe, MAZ, to establish a voluntary council to regulate the media industry.
Sources within the ministry of information told IWPR that MIC chairman Tafataona Mahoso is working hand-in-glove with the ministry’s top civil servant, George Charamba, to have the three organisations comprising the membership of MAZ subjected to an official investigation and then stopped from operating, just as many independent papers and broadcasting groups have been destroyed over the years by the president and his loyalists.
Mahoso diligently administers the Orwellian Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, AIPPA, which dictates that domestic and foreign journalists who work without his permission can be imprisoned. Among papers forced to close was the Daily News, the country’s most popular and only independent daily, read by more than a million of the 11.5 million population. Under AIPPA and other draconian laws, every foreign correspondent and many Zimbabwean journalists have been forced out of the country.
To secure the legal right to publish or work as a journalist, applications have to be made to Mahoso, a former head of the school of journalism at Harare Polytechnic, known among the media as Mugabe’s hatchet man.
The drive against MAZ is being pushed most strongly by Charamba, co-designer of AIPPA with former information minister Jonathan Moyo.
“Charamba fears that he is now being isolated, together with Mahoso, after [new information minister Paul] Mangwana and some senior government officials have accepted the need for a voluntary media council and the importance of a healthy media environment,” said a government insider.
However, as the battle for the succession to 82-year-old President Mugabe hots up, it is entirely possible that Charamba is expressing through Mahoso the views of the head of state, which he has always done unstintingly in the past. Charamba recently labelled Mavis Makuni, an intelligent, highly articulate and trenchant critic of the Mugabe government with the weekly Financial Mail, a “menopausal columnist”. He has always had the ear of the head of state and is one of the few senior government officials who meet Mugabe on a regular basis.
MAZ is a coalition of Zimbabwe’s three main independent professional media organisations – the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, ZUJ, the Zimbabwe chapter of the Windhoek-headquartered Media Institute of Southern Africa, MISA-Zimbabwe, and the Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe, MMPZ.
MAZ produced a draft code of conduct for journalists and media institutions and a constitution for the proposed independent media council. MAZ’s declared aim is to render redundant the MIC, which has blackened Zimbabwe’s name internationally and stifled media development and freedom of expression in the country by harassing journalists, arresting them, closing down independent papers and making it difficult to register new players in the media industry.
MAZ has been lobbying parliament, Mangwana and key government officials to push for the repeal of AIPPA and also the draconian Public Order and Security Act, POSA, which limits the right of assembly and association, and the Broadcasting Services Act, BSA, which has been used to close down all private radio and TV stations, among other repressive media laws.
There has been a barrage of attacks on MAZ in recent weeks from the MIC’s Mahosa, who operates from the headquarters of the widely feared Central Intelligence Organisation, CIO, and who feels threatened by the steps to establish the voluntary media council. The council would regulate the media industry more liberally than the MIC and also receive and consider complaints from the public about media conduct.
In the more fluid situation developing inside government in the struggle to succeed Mugabe, who has been in power for more than 26 years, Mangwana and an unlikely ally, Leo Mugabe, President Mugabe’s nephew, favour the establishment of an independent media council. Leo Mugabe, a ruling Zanu (PF) party parliamentary deputy, is chairman of the influential assembly committee on transport and communications. If Mangwana and Leo Mugabe get their way, the MIC is likely to be scrapped, rendering Mahoso jobless and leaving the wings of the highly ambitious Charamba heavily clipped.
There is already panic inside the MIC, where Mahoso and Charamba fear they may soon lose their stranglehold on Zimbabwe’s media.
A jittery Mahoso has resorted to fierce public insults against MAZ and its component organisations, accusing them of plotting “regime change”, in the clear hope of rallying support from President Mugabe and other powerful government members. – IWPR

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