The composition of the ZMC commissioners was finally agreed to by President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara and announced in December amid claims that some candidates such as Useni Sibanda and Roger Stringer, who had performed exceptionally well, were dropped in a political balancing act.
Former ZBC newscaster and Danhiko Project deputy director, Godfrey Majonga, was appointed chairperson of the commission.
Majonga is deputised by former Daily News editor and National University of Science and Technology (Nust) lecturer Nqobile Nyathi.
The other commissioners are lawyer Chris Mhike, former Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) president Matthew Takaona, former ZBC chief executive officer Henry Muradzikwa, Reserve Bank division head Milicent Mombeshora, Nust lecturer Lawton Hikwa and journalist Miriam Madziwa.
The composition of the commission by members from across the political divide was welcomed by many.
High hopes were raised as Zimbabweans waited for the commission to start work immediately, as agreed by the negotiating teams that ZMC shall upon swearing in immediately process all applications for media licences that are pending, and develop and flight adverts calling upon interested parties to apply for media licences.
However, almost a year after the amendment of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa), which established the ZMC that replaced the Tafataona Mahoso-led Media Information Commission (MIC), the new body has not started processing applications from new media players.
Last year the public had to wait for four months after interviews were conducted, raising concerns over the three political parties’ commitment towards establishing a free and diverse media.
Confusion reigns over whether the media commissioners are expected to be sworn in by President Mugabe or not, while the issue of the setting up of offices and a secretariat for the ZMC will further delay the licensing of new newspapers.
Questions are also being asked on whether a new statutory instrument will be required to operationalise the ZMC.
Deputy Minister of Information and Publicity, Jameson Timba told the Zimbabwe Independent this week that the commissioners would not be sworn in but would receive letters from Mugabe before their appointment is gazetted.
“The ZMC commissioners are awaiting appointment letters from President Mugabe and once the letters have been written the appointments will be gazetted,” Timba said. “The commissioners will then start work and receive applications from new media players seeking to register newspapers and broadcasting stations.”
Mugabe is currently on his annual leave and is expected to officially appoint the commissioners when he returns to office next month.
Timba said there was no legal instrument required to operationalise ZMC as that was done through the amendment of Aippa in January 2008.
“Aippa was amended in 2008 and the amended Act recognised the ZMC… the ZMC is a recognised entity at law,” Timba said.
However there were no significant amendments made to Aippa which guide the operations of the ZMC.
It has also emerged that there are no offices ready for use by the ZMC as the offices previously housing the MIC are now occupied and rented by the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe.
ZUJ secretary general, Foster Dongozi, said delays in setting up the ZMC were disappointing but said they were expected under the inclusive government.
“The delay in setting up the ZMC is nothing unexpected from having observed the direction the global political agreement (GPA) has taken,” Dongozi said. “In terms of fully implementing the agreement it is not surprising that the ZMC is not in place but what is worrying is the lack of movement in constituting the ZMC to register new newspapers,” he said.
He said ZUJ was calling on the authorities to facilitate that the ZMC gets to work and serve the media industry.
Turning to the enabling legislation, Dongozi said the new commission would operate under the amended Aippa as the amended law recognises the ZMC.
“While changes to Aippa were cosmetic and not detailed, they however cover the setting up of ZMC and allow the body to operate in the country and as media organisations, we expect the commission to get to work soon,” Dongozi said.
Media Institute of Southern Africa national director Nhlanhla Ngwenya said delays in officially appointing the ZMC were slowing down establishment of new media players.
“The official appointing of the commissioners is causing delays in the registration of new media players and those banned by the government and what this means is that by extension Zimbabwe will remain with the unreliable state- owned newspapers and broadcasting stations,” Ngwenya said.
Zanu PF has included the media as an outstanding issue in unresolved GPA issues. Zanu PF has argued that foreign stations and online publications operating from out of the country and operated by Zimbabweans should cease operations and apply for licences locally.
Organisations that broadcast into Zimbabwe are the Voice of America’s Studio 7, SW Radio Africa and the Voice of the People.
Zanu PF also wants donor-funded publications that include Prime Minister Tsvangirai’s weekly newspaper, the Prime Minister’s Newsletter, the MDC’s Changing Times and the Legal Monitor to be banned.
However ZUJ and Misa have indicated that they would not support a statutory board to control the media but would only support a voluntary and self-regulatory media council.
The organisations have however said they would support the government controlled constitutional body while media reforms are taking place.
While the pace of setting up the ZMC and appointing the commissioners has been moving at a snail’s pace, there are also concerns that former MIC chief executive officer, Tafataona Mahoso (below) is tipped to become the new chief executive officer of the ZMC.
Mahoso led the MIC in shutting down many newspapers such as the Daily News and its sister paper the Daily News on Sunday, the Tribune and a number of radio and television broadcasting stations.