October 30, 2020

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The Media Can’t Breathe

By Thembani Mutanda

The ‘’Can’t breathe ‘’ movement has cottoned on to the media in Zimbabwe as the onslaught on media practitioners by the authorities continues unabated with the latest beating up of journalists by a shadowy and faceless individual at a Ngadziore presser being a case in point.

Is the media going the dinosaur path in Zimbabwe and when will the media bashing end?

Much has been said about the liberation struggle but some people do not want to add that the liberation struggle was fought to bring democracy to Zimbabwe. Among other things, democracy entails freedom of speech which is an inherent right enshrined in the 2013 constitution.

If our sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers and the like fought for us to get unfettered access to information, why should journalists be bashed as if they are criminals, no, it is the chewing gum dynamics; chew and when it loses taste throw it away.

This is a culture around the globe, authorities want media to positively respond to their actions even when it doesn’t make sense, and it’s the media that should make it look positive. Forgetting the mandate of journalist, to stand in and inform the public across on the positive or negative.

Aren’t journalists doing a civic duty to inform members of the public about what is happening in the country of their birth? Should we wait for international news agencies and broadcasters to come and ferret the news for local journalists and then we surreptitiously listen to the news as if we are not bonafide citizens?

This remind us of the radio station which was broadcasted from Mozambique, Radio Chokwadi, during the Chimurenga era.

They were afraid that once the Grey Scouts or other security agents got wind of what they were doing, then they would be cannon fodder for prison cells. In the end, good triumphed over evil.

Zimbabwe has been independent now for 40 years notwithstanding the settler government’s attempt to muzzle the press. News reached the people. Is not this a perfect example of how people or the citizenry is hungry for reliable news and will do anything possible to get it?

Why then is the media under physical attack in Zimbabwe? This is in order to make the journalists live in perpetual fear.

In the early 1990’s, Professor Arthur Mutambara was the president of the Students Representative Council at the UZ and at that time, he led demonstrations against what the students felt were bad policies of the government.

Rewind to September 1986 when the late revolutionary, Cde Samora Moises Machel died in a plane crash and the hands of the apartheid regime appeared to have been responsible for the Tupolev jet crash. University students demonstrated against the apartheid regime and the government was happy to give them its blessings.

The question is: ‘’should the media serve as the Public Relations arm of the government every day? The Ministry of Information is there for that purpose. Journalists have to remember that their civic duty is to inform the public and be the Fourth Estate.

It makes sad reading when the state allows journalists to be treated like criminals when the real malcontents walk scot free. Hopewell Chin’ono languished in remand prison for more than a month on charges which refuse to stick while Dr Obadiah Moyo, Mrs Prisca Mupfumira never ‘enjoyed’ the lice of remand prison or suffered the ignominy of sharing toilets with 82 people. To an observer, this appears to be callous to the investigative journalists.

Since time eternal, MISA Zimbabwe has been coming in to the rescue of journalists in Zimbabwe on numerous occasions media practitioners were harassed and arrested by security details. In 2020 alone the media’s working space is being closed by day and during the covid period 2 journalists were acquitted after being arrested for wanting to interview Joana Mamombe and team and they were charged for not adhering to lockdown regulations of social distancing.

Sam Takawira and Frank Chikore spent days behind bars for simply executing their duties, regardless of the directive by the ministry of information to treat journalists as front-liners during the covid period.

Back in the 1980’s Geoffrey Nyarota, the Chronicle editor, had to be relieved off his duties on the pretext that he was being promoted after his paper published juicy details of the Willowgate scandal which sucked in a number of high profile politicians and claimed the scalp of a Politburo member, Cde Maurice Nyagumbo.

Journalism has been criminalized while it is not meant to be a Public Relations job for the government and that sycophantic journalism has killed the profession.

Bashing journalists is not the way to go especially when the New Dispensation is building bridges. Public Relations starts at home; hiring international PR firms to boost the image of the country might not work if the same world audience sees a presser being interrupted by thugs and nothing is done about it.

Instead, Takudzwa Ngadziore after being bashed he is behind bars and denied bail for inciting violence, this alone shows how our systems are rotten, the same applies to journalists among other citizens who are failing to freely express themselves as enshrined in the constitution.

More harm is done on the reputation of the government if access to information is denied hence, the authorities must treat the media as an ally against corruption.

It was reported by state media that the government is in the process of cleaning up the rot in MDC A dominated councils; the same type of expose should not be begrudged on other media when they reveal the level of chicanery and corruption that have visited the public domain.

If a journalist is deemed to have lied or exaggerated on issues, the laws of the land must be used without any selective application of the law.

Zimbabwe will always be a homeland to the indigenes and they need to see it prosper. The media is there to see the transformation of the country through strict adherence to democratic ideals. The media must never be a servile appendage of the state.