Zanu PF ‘blocks’ Media Conference

Regulation & Policy

A crucial conference to lay the groundwork for the reform of Zimbabwe’s troubled media was cancelled at the last minute on Friday, dashing hopes the inclusive government is ready to tackle some of the key targets it set itself under the Global Political Agreement (GPA).

The Ministry of Media, Information and Publicity said the conference, which would have run between Saturday and Sunday had been rescheduled after Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe lost her mother.

But sources said Zanu PF loyalists had blocked the indaba over fears that the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was moving too fast to reform the local media crippled by some of the most oppressive legislation in the world.

“The death of Khupe’s mother came as a very convenient excuse,” said the source. “But there is a lot of resistance from the Zanu PF side and the old guard within the ministry itself.” The resistance, sources said, was also fuelled by topics that had been proposed for discussion such as the draconian Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa).

Renowned media experts were also expected to lead discussions on the structure, role and management of public media in an emerging democracy and the state of the media in Zimbabwe. President Robert Mugabe’s previous administration was accused of closing down the media space and using the public media to promote hate speech.

Mugabe’s spokesman George Charamba and Minister of Media, Information and Publicity Webster Shamu, have often attacked the private media over the way it covers issues. Some of the organisations that had been invited to the conference have clashed with government over its reluctance to guarantee freedom of expression.

Deputy Media, Information and Publicity Minister, Jameson Timba, who was organising the event, insisted the cancellation was as a result of the bereavement. He said he was hopeful the conference would be held soon to tackle the pressing issues.

The repeal of oppressive legislation and the freeing of the airwaves are among provisions of the GPA that analysts say would be key in measuring the success of the unity government.

Zimbabwe Independent and The Standard chief executive officer, Raphael Khumalo, who was billed to chair one of the sessions, said he hoped the conference would be reconvened soon. “We look forward to having the conference because it is very crucial,” he said.

Chair of the Zimbabwe National Editors’ Forum, Iden Wetherell, said media reform was placed high on the agenda in political negotiations last year because effective democracy was impossible without the free expression of diverse views.

“This is a litmus test of the new government’s effectiveness in allowing a free press and improving standards in its own sector, a test it seems determined to fail,” Wetherell said.

The Zimbabwe Standard