MEMBERS of the Zimbabwe Media Commission have now been named, but hopeful media entrepreneurs face further delays before the regulator begins operating and considering licence applications, writes a jocoza correspondent.

After long delays, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and his rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai announced the names of the ZMC in a move that will pave the way for the licensing of newspapers and broadcasters.

But media watchdogs and critics remain skeptical and believe the ZMC is a “halfway house” which stands between self-regulation and real media freedom.

Andrew Moyse, the co-ordinator of the Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe (MMPZ) said the ZMC “might be paralysed by the diametrically opposing viewpoints of the commissioners. The Zanu PF elements in the commission will resist reform. It is a bit of a mixed bag, but we understand because this is a product of heavy compromises everywhere.”

Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA Zimbabwe) chairperson Loughty Dube said it would have wanted self-regulation as the best route of ensuring media freedom.

“We will continue to push for self regulation and we believe it is the right route. The state has no business in the media. Our position remains the same; Misa is opposed to statutory regulation,” said Dube. "We would have preferred a self-regulatory body which is not run by politicians."

Last month, Mugabe and Tsvangirai agreed on former Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) TV presenter Godfrey Majonga as the ZMC chairman and ex Daily New editor Nqobile Nyathi as the deputy.

Other members in the ZMC are former ZBC chief executive officer Henry Muradzikwa, former Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) leader Matthew Takaona, central bank of Zimbabwe divisional head, Millicent Mombeshora, media lawyer Chris Mhike, former diplomat Chris Mutsvangwa, journalist Miriam Madziwa and Lawton Hikwa.

With the announcement of the ZMC, the country's biggest independent daily – The Daily News – together with its sister publication – The Daily News On Sunday – will almost certainly resume publishing after a six year ban.

Both titles run by the Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ) were awarded a licence in May by an independent committee but were ordered to wait for the constitution and later the announcement of the commissioners to serve on the ZMC board.

Interviews for the ZMC board were conducted in June but haggling between Mugabe and Tsvangirayi stalled the announcement of the commissioners – subsequently leading to the freeze on the application of licences by the ANZ and two other prospective dailies – NewsDay and Daily Gazette.

While Mugabe dragged his feet on the announcement of the ZMC, in the meantime, he allowed the government-controlled Zimpapers to launch a weekly metro paper – The H-Metro – without applying for a licence.

Foreign news networks such as the BBC and CNN whose 8 year ban was lifted during the course of 2009 are also expected to resume normal operation following the announcement of the ZMC.

NewsDay, which had announced plans to launch a daily paper in May had been operating an online publication, while The Daily Gazette publishers who also publish the weekly Financial Gazette have targeted January 2010 for hitting the streets.

But the prospects of papers coming on stream have not diluted the Zimbabwe’s editors who view the current media environment with skepticism.

"We have a scandalous situation where a so-called 'public media' misleads the public about many crucial issues, including those currently under discussion in the inter-party talks," said the chairman of the Zimbabwe National Editors Forum (ZINEF), Iden Wetherell.

"There is an element of dishonesty and deception in the public media; it's unhealthy. There is need to restore genuine public ownership so they play a useful role in nation-building. For people to make informed choices at the polls," Wetherell said.

Deputy Minister of Media, Information and Publicity, Jameson Timba said there were still a few issues that had to be addressed before the commission is operationalised.

He said the ZMC was already defined in terms of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and therefore did not need any law to formalize its operations .

Meanwhile, Zimbabwean football fans have been left in the cold after the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation failed to buy the Africa Cup of Nations television rights.

The broke state broadcaster has announced that it has failed to raise the required R45 million to screen the AFCON matches being held in Angola.

A ZBC spokesman said the broadcasting fees were too high for the state broadcaster.