The newly established Media Council of Zimbabwe, established in the teeth of opposition from the government, represents an attempt by the media to take charge of the nessary agenda of transformation, writes Rashweat Mukundu, country director of Misa in Zimbabwe.
Rashweat MukondÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â of Misa-Zimbabwe writes:
The launch of the Media Council of Zimbabwe (MCZ) on 8 June 2007Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â spurred the struggle for media freedom in Zimbabwe to a new height where the media itself should be in the driving seat.
My optimism might easily be dismissed as naÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¯ve, coming as it does against the backdrop of the relentlessÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â repression against the media and the citizens' right to freedom ofÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â expression.
That optimism is, however, based on the belief that the agents ofÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â change are the oppressed themselves and not the oppressors. The MCZ, inÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â other words, marks the resurrection of the repressed.
The MCZ is described in different terms depending on the side one belongs to. Simply put, it is a move by the media to take charge of its own affairs, toÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â boldly say to society we can be accountable and that media workers canÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â contribute to the development of the media without the chains imposed byÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â laws such as AIPPA.
The Zimbabwe media, be it private or state-owned, has been at theÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â receiving end of repression resulting in the closure of four independentÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â newspapers under a repressive regime of state regulation and other extra-judicial means. The state media is persistently purged of dissentingÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â voices and has been made a shameful mouthpiece of the ruling elite.
Having the media take the initiative through processes such as the MCZÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â is a way of practically seeking media transformation, accountabilityÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â and responsibility. The MCZ will not, under the present circumstances,Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â result in the licensing of the Daily News, The Tribune or the WeeklyÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â Times, but is in fact, opening a new front in dismantling the repressiveÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â media law regime currently suffocating media development in Zimbabwe. ItÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â might as well be true that some banned newspapers might be gone forÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â good but the struggle by those still operating and those banned should setÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â a firm and secure platform for those that will emerge in the future.
Taking the drivers seat in this case, is thus embarking on a longÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â journey of seeking and acting to influence change, for ourselves andÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â posterity by retaining the public's confidence in the media.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â The MCZ presentsÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â a chance for media workers to unite on a common idea and broaden theÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â struggle for change with the support and involvement of the citizenryÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â who are set to benefit and use the MCZ as an amicable platform forÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â conflict resolution.
The mere existence of the MCZ is a statement that the media is part ofÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â society and that for the media to exist it needs two distinct groups:
Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â the public and the publishers/media organisation(s).Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â For the MCZ toÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â work it needs public support because the basis of its formation is toÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â enhance interaction with the public and amicable resolution of disputes inÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â a non litigation mannerÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â as opposed to what we have witnessed under theÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA).
Under the current media laws, the media are bombed and intimidatedÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â notwithstanding the numerous arrests of journalists. It must be emphasisedÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â that a critical missing component in the protection of the media inÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â Zimbabwe has been lack of public support for media diversity. The closureÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â of newspapers has thus not only deprived the public access toÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â alternative information but subjected the population to fatal doses ofÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â government propaganda that serves no public interest agenda.
The MCZ, it is argued, brings the two together for a common cause onÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â the premise that the media belongs to the people and not to the rulingÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â elite or the Stalinist Ministry of Information and Publicity which spendsÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â taxpayers' money making phone calls to the Zimbabwe BroadcastingÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â Corporation (ZBC) directing how stories are to be covered. The sameÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â ministry argues that AIPPA is a law that defends ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œnational interestsÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â, anÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â obvious confusion and failure to distinguish national interests fromÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â partisan selfish interests.
If the media belongs to the people andÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â media owners in their variousÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â and diverse forms are using the public space to spread information andÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â honestly make a living, then it follows that the same media should beÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â responsible and accountable to the public. The MCZ then becomes theÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â platform for public and media interaction away from the dictates of policyÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â makers who have totally divergent interests with regard to the mediaÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â with those of both the media itself and the public.
The vociferous defense of AIPPA as a necessary piece of legislation byÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â the Ministry of Information and Publicity will not abate anytime soonÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â nor should we be foolish to expect the policy dinosaurs in that MinistryÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â to change. Change will, however, come and it will come throughÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â struggle and on our own terms. The Ministry of Information will not change because it cannot. Its political life and that of its masters dependÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â on repressive laws like AIPPA.
The MCZ is therefore a tool to fight bad policy.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â By its very nature
Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â the MCZ cannot work with the state-controlled Media and InformationÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â Commission (MIC) – it cannot co-operate with AIPPA because the MCZ is anÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â antithesis of statutory regulation.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â The MCZ might fail to get the fullÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â co-operation of all media players, which is sad, but neverthelessÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â expected because the dominant media is in the hands and control of the policyÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â dinosaurs. What has to be stated for certain though is that the MCZ isÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â not going to simply fade away because some 'powerful' permanentÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â secretary, pseudo intellectuals and soldiers running this Ministry dislikeÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â the idea.
The same people who pride themselves with crafting AIPPA, shutting downÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â newspapers and causing the near decimation of the privately ownedÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â media in Zimbabwe are still caught up in the Stalinist era with regard toÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â the role of the media.
The media policy dinosaurs within the Ministry of Information andÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â Publicity have no tangible or sensible reason to oppose the MCZ other thanÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â that it is not their own initiative and secondly, it is a threat toÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â their stranglehold on the media and the abuse they pile week in and weekÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â out on innocent citizens in civil society, the opposition, and privateÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â media, abusing publications including The Herald and Sunday Mail.
What has obviously escaped these policy dinosaurs is the movement thatÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â has taken place with regard to media the world over. These movementsÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â include the diversification of channels of media content distribution,Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â demystification of the media as a newsroom or physical entity that canÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â be shut, threatened, confiscated and regulated. New technologies theÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â world over enable wider participation in information creation,Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â dissemination and consumption. This means that media regulation has to take intoÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â account the opening up of media space to as many people as possible,Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â whether through personal websites, blogs, and other online publications.
Participation in information dissemination is no longer theÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â responsibility of a few through regulated media houses, but anyone can do soÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â freely – anyone can sell and disseminate information. Media policy inÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â Zimbabwe should look at the benefits of these new technologies in socialÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â and economic development. Media policy can, therefore, not beÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â developed and administered ruthlessly by a paranoid system that looks at theÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â media as an enemy and sees and confuses its selfish interests withÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â national interests.
The MCZ is a statement to say that true national interests areÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â protected by broader participation and involvement and not through exclusion,Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â repression and persecution.
* Rashweat Mukundu is the National Director of MISA-Zimbabwe