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on the future of Zimbabwe’s media landscape
November 28, 2013
Mr Convenor, colleagues,
ladies and gentlemen,
In my brief remarks,
let me begin by thanking the conveners of this important discussion
for inviting me to share a few perspectives on Zimbabwe’s
media landscape and its future prospects. As an outgoing director
of the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe, let me also hasten to
add that while the views I will express here will have resonance
with the values espoused by my employer, I am however, speaking
largely in my own personal capacity.
There are a
number of angles from which to tackle the important issue that @263Chat
and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands has gathered us
here and in the virtual world for. But perhaps the most important
or if not so at least urgent, is that of context. Or as philosophers,
academics and prophets would want to call it, ‘the now’.
When we look at the present
circumstances of our media landscape, there is a measure of optimism
about the possibility of its reform. Either by way of sometimes
over elaborate Ministerial statements of intent or by way of the
near impossibility of keeping media space in Zimbabwe as closed
as it is today given the phenomenal leaps in technology and new
media that all of us are contemporary witnesses to. Our context
is therefore one that exudes more the inevitability of reform than
it does the retention of the status quo.
There are however, complex
dimensions to this rather politicized optimism. I define it as politicized
optimism because unfortunately it seems to rely on the every word
of the current Minister of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services.
This may not be a bad thing, if the minister in question did not
have such a bad history with Zimbabwe’s media.
Or if his own party was
not at ‘sixes and sevens’ trying to explain its actual
attitude toward freedom of expression after a Constitutional Court
ruling decriminalizing insulting the President. But as with most
stated policy intentions of government, we would be correct to hold
fast to our principles of democratic freedom of expression, media
freedom and access to information while negotiating whatever policy
frameworks are placed before us. And as with all things political,
we deserve the right to democratically refuse that which is not
in the best democratic or public interest of our country’s
But again, I must emphasize
that there will be some form of progress in relation to the media
landscape. The government has already stated its intention to expand
the media. And quantitatively so. In part the previous government
did the same with the re-introduction of a formerly banned newspaper
among a host of other new ones, some of which have since stopped
What we will however,
definitely see going forward, is an increase in radio and a sprinkling
of television stations. Primarily by way of licensing. We do not
know about the viability of such listened stations, as was the case
with the licensing of the print media houses, some of which have
regrettably closed due to economic dire straits and multiple regulation
by the state.
The quantitative increase
in both broadcasters at the commercial and community level will
however, not occur with a simultaneous improvement in the qualitative
aspect of the media landscape. Key questions around multiple, repressive
and bureaucratic media regulation will remain in vogue.
I will give the example
of our multiple regulatory environment where anyone intending to
set up any media house has to contend with at least four statutory
bodies related to the media or directly affecting the media. From
the constitutional Zimbabwe Media Commission, through to the Broadcasting
Authority of Zimbabwe and the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory
These three interlinked
regulatory frameworks are governed each by their own bureaucracies,
none of which have ever demonstrated an intention to holistically
meet the international best practices set up (with our governments
endorsement) through the auspices of UNESCO or the International
the envisaged quantitative expansion does not necessarily guarantee
media diversity as defined by our colleagues at MISA
Zimbabwe wherein the media landscape need not be dominated by
one company let alone be characterized by one version of events
or the news due to multi-media ownership.
What obtains in ‘the
now’ is not a good sign, wherein there is already evidence
of multi-media ownership by bigger media related companies which
in some cases own newspapers as well as radio stations. With the
new calls for local commercial radio broadcasting licences, there
is definitely going to be a flurry by larger companies who are already
in other forms of media (including telecommunications) to cross
either from production or print to broadcasting. What you will read
in a paper will almost be the same as what you hear on radio. Whoever
On the brighter side
for media professionals, there is anticipation that with the quantitative
expansion of the media, employment opportunities will increase for
the multitudes that are leaving or have long left training institutions
but remain unemployed.
In tandem with such a
welcome expansion, colleagues in the media need to close ranks to
defend the values of their profession from either predatory profiteering
tendencies overwhelming the media or state benevolence and therefore
This they can
do through remembering their own version of the Hippocratic oath,
Code of Conduct as collectively established by the Voluntary
Media Council of Zimbabwe.
They must also seek the
highest levels of professionalism and fair remuneration through
their representative union, the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists because
an expansion of the media does not always mean better remuneration.
It might mean more the entrenchment of corporate profit value to
the media that either improved services or the media serving the
best public interest.
A penultimate but important
point for me to emphasize in considerations on Zimbabwe’s
media is the phenomenon that has become new or social media. Again,
this is going to have a profound effect on the right of all Zimbabweans
to express themselves by literarily increasing the enjoyment of
the said human right.
components of it remain in the realm of entertainment and non-media
for development communication frameworks, it has already overcome
its initial birth-pangs through the establishment of platforms such
as @263Chat, Kubatana,
Three Men on a Boat
among many others that are striving to give public interest information
to younger generations of Zimbabweans.
There is no doubt that
such platforms will soon compete as credible sources of news with
the mainstream media. And that is a good thing as it will help provide
not only alternative interpretations of events but significantly
contribute to the resolving the problem of a lack of media diversity
that we are facing in our country. I just hope the government does
not decide to either ‘PRISM’ or ‘GHQ’ them.
In conclusion Mr. Convenor,
just a quick reminder on the main points of my presentation. I am
persuaded that because optimism is a key function of humanity, we
have to be optimistic about the future of the media in Zimbabwe.
Our optimism must however, avoid politicization and must not negate
the democratic values of freedom of expression, media freedom, inclusive
of fully exploring democratic media self-regulation and access to
Profit and quantity will
dominate the media in the next year or so, inclusive of a lack of
media diversity, a continued carrot and stick attitude by the state
toward the media and a multiple regulatory framework. If we however,
stand by democratic values and principles, our optimism will not
be in vain, nor reliant on the cult of personality.
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