After several postponements and arguments, Zimbabwean journalists have
finally launched a voluntary council to oversee standards and ethics in
the profession, writes Torby Muturikwa.

The Voluntary Media Council (VMC) had been put on ice after President Robert Mugabe’s spokesperson and secretary, George Charamba, threatened the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ). Internal tensions also threatened to derail the project.

But on June 8, ZUJ and the other members within the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ) put aside their differences to launch the council.

MAZ consists of ZUJ, Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa), the National Editors Forum and the Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe (MMPZ).

However, journalists working for state-owned radio, television and newspapers did not attend the launch ceremony, fearing reprisals from the government. State journalists form the bulk of ZUJ membership.

A 14-member board that includes journalists, human rights lawyers, priests, a retired High Court judge and others drawn from civil society, was appointed to oversee the VMC.

ZUJ president Mathew Takaona said he glad about the long-awaited move. “We are happy that we have managed to launch despite a number of problems. This council should be acceptable to both the state and private media," said Takaona.

Those behind the initiative hope that the media council will chart a new course in the battered media in Zimbabwe by providing a democratic and independent voluntary mediation forum for use by members of the public, government, business, labour and other sectors.

However, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa), which gives the government wide-ranging powers over the media, and the Media and Information Commission (MIC) which administers the act’s licencing and other provisions, will remain in force.

Government in earlier consultations with ZUJ and the MAZ strongly objected to the setting up of the media council and argued that the MIC and Aippa were enough.

President Mugabe's nephew Leo, who heads the Parliamentary Portfolio on Communications and Transpor, had suggested ZUJ push for amendments to AIPPA instead of launching the council.