Information minister Christopher Mushohwe has given contrasting signals to the media since his appointment a year ago. He initially showed zeal to engage before issuing all sorts of threats against critical outlets, especially around the criticism of President Robert Mugabe and his family.
Comment: The Standard Editor
Mushohwe took over from Jonathan Moyo, who had gone the extra mile to build bridges with the private media during his short stint at the ministry after making a comeback into Mugabe’s Cabinet in 2013, and he appeared keen to build on that momentum.
However, the incumbent minister appeared to change course soon after engaging editors and publishers of privately-owned media organisations as he issued threats against journalists that exposed security forces’ meddling in politics.
Mushohwe particularly made a chilling statement to the effect that writing about the security sector was akin to venturing into a crocodile-infested pool.
He also accused the private media of allegedly abetting the West’s regime change agenda in Zimbabwe — a tired excuse by Mugabe’s government to muzzle critical media.
Therefore, we were pleasantly surprised to hear Mushohwe this week talking about the need for self-regulation by local media and his frank admission that the government had no business dictating what the media reports or does not report on.
He said: “It will be a sad day indeed when the requirements of professional and ethical discipline will have to be imported into your [media] workplaces. That day must never come, which is why we must act consistent with the morals of the craft, which are so clear and so well-known and which find a loud echo in our laws.”
We agree with the minister that there are serious ethical and professional deficiencies in the local media industry that need urgent redress and this anomaly is across the board.
There is no doubt that players in the media industry want products that would guarantee them survival and that can only be achieved through earned trust from consumers.
The issue of ethical lapses cannot be a problem that is confined to the private media alone as the government has tried to portray it in order to justify the silencing of critical voices.
Poor journalism is also being practised in the so-called State-controlled media and the situation appears to have worsened under Mushohwe’s watch.
State-owned newspapers in recent months have become mouthpieces of a Zanu PF faction in the tug of war to succeed Mugabe and ethics have clearly been thrown out of the window.
It is our hope that Mushohwe’s stated desire to improve the media industry is not premised on the narrow and misguided notion that it is only the private media that needs attention.
The minister used to emphasise during his early days that he was taking his time to study the media industry as he was new in the portfolio and hopefully the positive statements were a product of that necessary induction.
Mushohwe can only improve the media industry by treating all media houses and journalists fairly and equally. An Animal Farm approach will not take the minister anywhere as his predecessors tried it and failed spectacularly.
Last week, Zimbabwe was abuzz following an interview that Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa gave to the United Kingdom-based New Statesman )magazine where he denied that he was the chief architect of the post-independence massacres in Midlands and Matabeleland.
The British journalist openly admitted that he was welcomed into the VP’s official offices despite the fact that he did not have accreditation.
The question is how this did happen if Mushohwe’s ministry is applying the rules fairly?
These are some of the contradictions that the minister needs to look at before he can achieve his dream of taking the local media industry a step further.
On face value, the minister’s statements last week were indicative of a man who has reached his Damascene moment and that is most welcome.