The media Zimbabwe needs




Webster Shamu

Zimbabwe needs an independent media that does not take direction from ay corner because media independence is the cornerstone of democracy, Chegutu East Member of Parliament Webster Shamu told Parliament yesterday.

Seconding a motion on World Press Freedom Day, Shamu, a former Information Minister, said donors should not shape the agenda for the media.

“The powers of donor and donor funded NGOs over African media associations and even trade unions are a cause for concern. Our media should carry an agenda of our own philosophy and development trajectory,” he said.

“We decry a media whose agenda is shaped by donors and other agencies. Our media should speak to our own issues as we see them. An independent media does not take direction from any corner. This independence is what the media and the declaration are all about. Media independence is the cornerstone of democracy.”

Shamu said silence kills democracy and this destroys society.

“Zimbabwe needs a free press to speak up and sustain our democracy and society. Freedom of the press is not just important to democracy; it is that which shapes our democracy.”

To emphasize his point Shamu quoted paragraphs 2 and 3 of the Windhoek Declaration which speaks of a free, independent and pluralistic press in Africa.

Paragraph 2 says: “By an independent press we mean a press independent from Government, political or economic control, or from control of materials and infrastructure essential for the production and dissemination of newspapers, magazines and periodicals”.

Paragraph 3 reads: “By a pluralistic press we mean the end of monopolies of any kind and the existence of the greatest possible number of newspapers, magazines and periodicals reflecting the widest possible range of opinion within the community”.

Full contribution:

HON. SHAMU: Thank you Madam Speaker for granting me this opportunity to second Hon. Mokone in a debate that centres around World Press Freedom Day. As I expressed my appreciation, let me take this opportunity to thank the Minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services, Hon. Senator Monica Mutsvangwa for a job well done for all the work that has been completed towards media reform, is indeed plausible. One would want to hope that the same spirit of unity of purpose amongst all media stakeholders will propel us to greater heights.

Madam Speaker, Hon. Mokone raised most of the pertinent issues as they relate to commemoration of World Press Freedom Day. So what we are looking forward to now is the unpacking of the National Development Strategy One 1 by the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services, the Portfolio Committee on Media and Broadcasting Services and all stakeholders so that the objective of image building, since this is supposed to contribute to improved economic performance, would also improve journalists’ living and working conditions.  The media is a potent tool at the disposal of the state and government is relaying information to all the corners of the country. We need to harness the power of the media in our mantra of “leaving no place and no one behind” in the development equation.

Madam Speaker, celebration or commemoration of the 3rd of May as World Press Freedom Day is not a foreign theory. Amongst the participants at the 1991 seminar in Namibia that gave birth to the Windhoek Declaration were our very own sons. Zimbabwe was fully represented at the conference. We are  party to this declaration which culminated in the United Nations Declaration of May 3rd as World Press Freedom Day, a day meant to celebrate the feats and achievements of our press, as well as take stock of those developments that aim to enhance freedom of the press and those challenges confronting the industry.

Through the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, whose secretary General then was none other than the current Deputy Minister Minister of Information Publicity and Broadcasting Services, Hon. Kindness Paradza, a decision was taken to send the then Chairman of ZUJ, Vincent Chikwari to the seminar. Chikwari joined other Zimbabweans who participated in the seminar in the form of Geofrey Nyarota,  Geofrey Takawira Chada, Onesimo Mukaru-Kabweza, Hugh Lewis, Andrew Moise and Govin Reddy. Zimbabwe was indeed a participant, a signatory to the origination and consummation of the Windhoek Declaration.

Madam Speaker, commemoration of World Press Freedom Day tends to just mention the Windhoek Declaration without reading its provisions. We must speak to it, walk it and be guided by it in our day to day living. If you look at the Declaration, you find that there are a number of paragraphs and when I went through it, I decided to recommend to this august House and my colleagues within the media fraternity that for now we need to pay attention to paragraphs 2, 3 and 12. I find those paragraphs Madam Speaker have relevance to Africa and most importantly, South Africa where we are situated.

For maybe a better understanding of where I am coming from, I will read the three paragraphs. Paragraph 2 declare as follows: “By an independent press we mean a press independent from Government, political or economic control, or from control of materials and infrastructure essential for the production and dissemination of newspapers, magazines and periodicals”.

Yes, indeed Madam Speaker, even our very Constitution guaranteed freedom of the press and independence of editors to shape their own editorial policies. A compromised press would not reflect the realities on the ground and on issues affecting our people. Instead, they become mouthpieces of the politically powerful and economically sound. A true independent press, as per the Declaration, is a prerequisite for a balanced national agenda and development.

Paragraph 3 reads as follows; “By a pluralistic press we mean the end of monopolies of any kind and the existence of the greatest possible number of newspapers, magazines and periodicals reflecting the widest possible range of opinion within the community”. Today Zimbabwe has a number of registered publishers and broadcasters who some of whom are already giving citizens diverse coverage of issues in fulfillment of the Windhoek Declaration.

Madam Speaker, paragraph 12 says “To assist in the presentation of the freedoms enumerated above, the establishment of truly independent, representative associations, syndicates or Trade Unions of journalist and association of editors and publishers, is a matter of priority in all the countries of Africa where such bodies do not exist”. Our constitution speaks to this issue extensively as freedom of the media is one of the freedoms which is part of our Bill of Rights. The other state and Government agencies are obligated with the responsibility of not only protecting but enhancing freedom of the media and of expression.

I will now turn to the three paragraphs and look at them as a whole. Paragraphs 2, 3 and 12 of the Windhoek Declaration have perpetual relevance to Africa and South Africa in general in the context of globalisation, digitisation, convergence and the economic war between the United States and China over 5G technologies. Two other challenges that we have witnessed recently are the powers of monopolies such as Google and Amazon.

In this regard, Africa and Zimbabwe in particular, should invest in media infrastructure. This will allow us as a people to have a media that is responsive to the needs and aspirations of us as a people. Today we live in a world characterized by monopolies. The way we communicate and relate is already defined by global giants such as Google. Such developments in the information communication technologies (ICT) were not envisaged by either the Windhoek Declaration of the New International Information Order (NIIO) under the auspices of the South-South Cooperation. It means we are really calling for a revisit to relook at that Declaration and bring it up to speed.

Madam Speaker, our society is used to be defined by scarcity of information which required the sharing of this scarce resource. Today information is ubiquitous. The growth in ICTs and social media platforms has meant that information is everywhere. What is needed today is how best we as a nation can harness the technological resource for national unity and development. These developments were not foreseen at the time this Declaration was adopted and therefore, we must move with the times. We need to relook at the Declaration.

We need a strong media infrastructure that can support the sustainability of particularly the local media in the context of devolution. We need this infrastructure if the devolution agenda is to be achieved. We need a press that talks in local languages. A people can best communicate and understand issues when they do that in their own languages.

The powers of donor and donor funded NGOs over African media associations and even trade unions are a cause for concern. Our media should carry an agenda of our own philosophy and development trajectory. We decry a media whose agenda is shaped by donors and other agencies. Our media should speak to our own issues as we see them. An independent media does not take direction from any corner. This independence is what the media and the declaration are all about. Media independence is the cornerstone of democracy.

Madam Speaker, silence kills democracy and this destroys society. Zimbabwe needs a free press to speak up and sustain our democracy and society. Freedom of the press is not just important to democracy; it is that which shapes our democracy. I thank you.