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Media urged to shun hate language, work towards national healing; state media journalists, senior managers placed on EU sanctions list, accused of having undermined freedom of expression

(MISA/IFEX) - Zimbabwe's public and private media has been urged to shun hate language and work towards promoting national healing as Zimbabwe takes baby steps towards the implementation of an inclusive Government.

Speaking at a meeting with representatives of media houses on 6 February 2009, the Chairperson of the Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee (JOMIC) for the month of February, Professor Welshman Ncube, said the media has an important role to play in reducing the political tension that gripped Zimbabwe over the past 10 years.

JOMIC, which is co-chaired by Zanu-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front), MDC-T (Movement for Democratic Change - Tsvangirai) and MDC-M (Movement for Democratic Change-Mutambara), on a rotational basis, came into being following the signing of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) in Harare on 15 September 2008 to monitor the implementation of the Agreement by the three respective political parties.

Representatives from Zimpapers, Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings and ZimInd (PVT) Ltd, publishers of the "Zimbabwe Independent" and "Standard" newspapers attended the meeting.

Professor Ncube, of the MDC-M, said the parties agreed that the media has not lived up to expectations in adapting to the latest developments that should usher in a new political dispensation. "The formation of the inclusive Government is a very difficult job for the parties after the difficult years we have gone through. The parties are trying to reduce political tension, so there is need for the media to work together and build mutual trust to bring national healing across the country," said Ncube.

Under Article 19 of the GPA, the media should, among other responsibilities, provide balanced and fair coverage to all parties and refrain from using language that may incite hostility, political intolerance and ethnic hatred.

Committee member Nicholas Goche, of the Zanu PF, said the three main political parties were trying to create a new environment of tolerance and respect for divergent views. "We can argue in a more civilised manner, but with respect for each other's different views," he said.

Elton Mangoma, of the MDC-T, said although Zimbabwe was going through a difficult but important transitional period, it was imperative for the nation to share responsibilities and carry the nation forward. "The media have an important role in building the confidence of the nation . . . and improving the world's perception of the country," he said.

Mangoma said JOMIC would also meet with the political parties' leadership so that they tone down their language when addressing party gatherings.

Members of the committee were reportedly also in agreement that the new Government would ensure that all radio stations broadcasting outside the country should cease their illegal operations and register properly under the law.

MISA-Zimbabwe Chairperson Loughty Dube, however, said the government should first come up with very clear legal parameters on how they plan to free the airwaves to allow the entry of private players into the broadcasting sector. "There should first be clear parameters and timeframes for the issuing of the licenses as opposed to just expecting the radio stations to cease operations without putting into place clear legal frameworks for that eventuality," said Dube.

Dube also urged JOMIC to revisit the issue of the legality of the prohibitive registration and accreditation fees imposed against media houses and journalists, both local and foreign, wishing to operate in Zimbabwe as gazetted by the government in December 2008.

Foreign media organisations wishing to establish a representative office in Zimbabwe will pay an application fee of US$10,000 and a further US$20,000 and US$2,000 as permission to operate and complementary permit administration fees respectively.

Local journalists working for foreign media organisations will pay US$1,000 and US$3,000 as individual application and accreditation fees.

Dube noted that the fees were gazetted in the absence of the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) which is still to be constituted following the amendments to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) and the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), which were signed into law by President Robert Mugabe on 11 January 2008. The ZMC, which is supposed to be the successor statutory media regulatory body to the Media and Information Commission (MIC), is the one that should be tasked with the functions of media regulation, registration of mass media and accrediting of journalists. Members of the ZMC will consist of nine members appointed by the President from a list of persons nominated by the Parliamentary Committee on Standing Rules and Orders.

A Media Monitoring sub-committee of JOMIC has since been established and comprises Oppah Muchinguri (Zanu-PF), Thabita Khumalo (MDC-T) and Frank Chamunorwa (MDC-M).

In a separate development, seven journalists and senior managers with the state media have been added to the European Union's (EU) targeted sanctions lists for whipping up a government orchestrated terror campaign before and during the June 2008 presidential runoff.

They are also accused of being involved in activities that seriously undermined freedom of expression and the media in Zimbabwe.

On the list is Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) chief correspondent, Reuben Barwe; diplomatic correspondent Judith Makwanya; current affairs producer Musorowegomo Mukosi; ZBC acting chief executive officer (CEO) Happison Muchechetere, Zimbabwe Newspapers (CEO) Justin Mutasa, editor Pikirai Deketeke of "The Herald", senior assistant editor Caesar Zvayi and "The Sunday Mail" political editor Munyaradzi Huni.

Jongwe Printers, a company owned by Zanu PF and the political party's mouthpiece, "The Voice", were also placed on the sanctions list.

For further information on the fees imposed on foreign media, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/99741

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