Call for media reform in Zimbabwe
THE recent launch of the Harare Metro (H-Metro) on September 04, 2009 comes at a time when Zimbabweans are calling for broad media reforms that will usher in a vibrant and diverse media in the country.
The stringent media laws saw the demise of various media institutions such as FM 90, The Weekend Tribune and its sister paper, The Business Tribune, The Daily News and its sister paper The Daily News on Sunday published by the Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ), among other media outlets.
H-Metro, is a tabloid that focuses on local-interest stories and entertainment. It is an addition to the Zimpapers stable that publishes the following newspapers: The Herald (1891), The Manica Post (1893), Chronicle (1894), Sunday News (1930), The Sunday Mail (1935), Kwayedza (1986) and Umthunywa (2004).
At the launch of H-Metro, the Minster of Media, Information and Publicity, Mr. Webster Shamu said the event marked real growth in the information sector and noted that his ministry had cleared the Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe last month of any legal impediments for eventual registration.
“The Ministry of Information and Publicity cleared the ANZ of any legal impediments for registration. That action, which derived from a special committee created by my predecessor at the behest of a High Court ruling, does not amount to registration of ANZ. That will have to be done elsewhere,” said Mr. Shamu.
Another publisher, the Zimbabwe Independent (ZimInd) is yet to be registered.
Article 19 of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) signed by the representatives of ZANU-PF and the two MDC formations paved the way for a Government of National Unity (GNU). Despite promises of immediate media reforms, nothing on the ground suggests that this country will ever have a vibrant and diverse media. Even the Prime Minister, Mr. Morgan Tsvangirai has acknowledged that the media, particularly those under the control of the state are still rooted in partisan reporting in favour of President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party.
The GNU needs to put issues of media reform high on its agenda because the media has many functions in building and sustaining a more democratic society.
The media is the channel of information and education through which citizens can communicate with each other. It is a disseminator of stories, ideas and information; a means by which a society learns about itself and builds a sense of community; a vehicle for cultural expression and cultural cohesion within and between nations; a watchdog of government in all its forms.
The Zimpapers stable and the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation have failed to meet the needs of the majority of the Zimbabwean populace.
There is therefore an urgent need to create a media environment that is characterised by freedom of expression, pluralism and diversity. In order to achieve this, the GNU needs to put in place a system of media regulation that is conducive to freedom of expression, pluralism and diversity of the media.
The current media laws, policies and regulatory framework should uphold international standards such as those set in the Windhoek Declaration (1991).
The Declaration is in consistence with article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). It acknowledges that the establishment, maintenance and fostering of an independent, pluralistic and free press is essential to the development and maintenance of democracy in a nation, and for economic development. The Declaration also calls for an end to monopolies of any kind.
The current laws restricting media freedom should be narrowly defined and limited to those necessary in a democracy and there should be legal provisions that ensure a level economic playing field. The GNU needs to promote diversity in the print and broadcast media and allow for the development and expansion of community media in Zimbabwe.
The media should reflect and represent the diversity of views and Interests in society including those of marginalised groups.
The GNU should actively promote the development of the media sector in a manner that prevents undue concentration and ensures plurality and transparency of ownership and content across public, private and community. It should invest in human resources specifically in building the professional capacity of media workers. There is also need to promote the development of professional associations such as the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ).
The GNU also needs to set aside a budget that is sufficient for institutional and infrastructural capacity building. Infrastructure means of communication include the reception of broadcasts, the provision of electricity supplies and access to telephones and the Internet. These are all important because the media sector is characterized by high levels of public access thus there should be efficient use of technology to gather and distribute news and information, appropriate to the local context.
The road to reform the media in Zimbabwe is still too long and the launch of the Harare Metro is not a significant sign that reflects positive change in the media environment.