Mahoso, who as chairman of the defunct Media and Information Commission, closed down at least five newspapers and banned several foreign and local journalists, has been hired as the chief executive officer by the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC).
The ZMC, a constitutional commission created out of Zanu PF and the MDC’s power sharing arrangement, is mandated with licensing the print media and accrediting journalists. ZMC commissioners have downplayed Mahoso’s new role as being merely secretarial, but his ghost still haunts the Zimbabwean media landscape. Apart from presiding over one of the darkest periods in Zimbabwean media, Mahoso still contributes hate-filled articles to state-controlled newspapers.
“His (Mahoso’s) appointment is the opposite of what Article 19 of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) seeks to do,” says Pedzisai Ruhanya, chairperson of the Zimbabwe Journalists for Human Rights. The GPA, the backbone of the coalition government, states the need for more media freedoms and less hate and inflammatory language in both privately-owned and public media. “You just need to look at what he writes,” said Ruhanya.
The appointment of the ZMC five months ago ignited hope of more newspapers being licensed and journalists finally operating freely.
When Mahoso failed to make the grade for the ZMC commission during interviews conducted by a select parliamentary committee in August last year, many, particularly journalists, celebrated the demise of a man accused of fuelling unemployment through the closure of newspapers as well as causing arbitrary arrests, detention and malicious prosecution of journalists.
But to their shock and disappointment, Mahoso has bounced back in media regulation. Apart from his job at the ZMC, Mahoso is the controversially-appointed chairperson of the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ), the licensing authority for the broadcasting industry.
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s efforts to force a reversal of Mahoso’s BAZ appointment have so far failed, leaving his MDC-T party to join journalists in condemning the former media lecturer’s continued role in media regulation and licensing.
“This portrays a sinister motive,” said Nelson Chamisa, the MDC-T spokesman.
“The way Mahoso has behaved disqualifies him from any institution, more so BAZ. He does not even qualify to be chairman of a burial society,” Chamisa said.
Journalists interviewed by the Zimbabwe Independent said they felt betrayed.
“The message that ZMC is sending is wrong — putting a media hangman to be in charge of media reforms. What guarantee is there that he won’t close newspapers? ZMC needs to follow the Labour Act to make sure that he is lawfully dismissed. It is not good enough to have him temporarily,” said Ruhanya, a Deputy News Editor when the Daily News was forced off the streets in 2003.
Secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) Foster Dongozi said his organisation’s members were uncomfortable dealing with Mahoso.
“To many of us that were rendered jobless by the Media and Information Commission, which he was part of, this will obviously touch a raw nerve. It is very offensive. He is part of a commission that brought a lot of hardships and suffering amongst journalists,” he said.
Dongozi, however, pointed out that dismissing Mahoso, a fierce defender of President Robert Mugabe’s policies, could cause unnecessary arguing among coalition government partners. This, he said, would provide an opportunity for anti-reformists to delay media reforms even further.
The director of the Zimbabwe chapter of the Media Institution of Southern Africa, Nhlanhla Ngwenya, said Mahoso’s appointment eroded ZMC’s credibility.
“It further vindicates doubts that the commission can possibly uphold and develop freedom of the press as well as ensure that the people of Zimbabwe have equitable and wide access to information as envisaged under Section 100P of Constitutional Amendment 19,” he said.
Section 100P of the amendment states that the ZMC should uphold and develop freedom of the press, promote and enforce good practice and ethics in the press and ensure that Zimbabweans enjoy equitable and wide access to information.
“By appointing Mahoso, the commission has failed its first test to inspire public confidence in its work by making sensible decisions that would disprove strong views that it is simply the old Media and Information Commission by another name,” said Ngwenya.
“It also shows the authorities’ desperation to have Mahoso involved in media regulation at all costs after attempts to smuggle him into the BAZ were strongly resisted by the MDC. It appears it’s motivated by the lingering desire to perpetuate despotic controls on the flow of information in a bid to suffocate, manipulate and distort issues of national discourse by some government quarters.”
Media Alliance of Zimbabwe co-ordinator Buhle Moyo described Mahoso’s appointment as a “slap in the face”.
She said ZMC needed to explain to Zimbabweans Mahoso’s role as CEO and why he should head the secretariat when he failed parliamentary interviews.
“It is Zanu PF’s way of saying they are still in charge. There was so much delay in appointing ZMC and now that they can finally get down to business, we have Mahoso – a person who was in charge of closing down newspapers. It all now comes to naught,” Moyo said.
Concurring with Moyo, constitutional lawyer Lovemore Madhuku said the appointment showed lack of seriousness by Zanu PF.
“This is Zanu PF’s way of demonstrating that there is no change. It is the same thing that they are doing to Tsvangirai — showing them they have no power. It is laughable — a demonstration of lack of seriousness. What is going to be the role of the CEO? I think he will have a lot of influence on what happens there,” he said.