Press and Politics in Zimbabwe

By Mukasa, Stanford G. | African Studies Quarterly, Fall-Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

Press and Politics in Zimbabwe


Mukasa, Stanford G., African Studies Quarterly


Abstract: This paper provides a historical background to the development of the press in Zimbabwe and identifies the political, social and economic interventions that have shaped the editorial policies and directions of the press. The development of the press in Zimbabwe press, the paper suggests, can be categorized into three eras: colonial/nationalist (pre-1980); transitional (1980- 1990) and post-transitional (1990-present). During each era, the press exhibited editorial policies and practices that reflected the ideological and socio-political environment of the country. In the colonial era, the press mirrored the settler- colonial ideology of the state and social polarization along racial lines. Its successor in the post-colonial transitional era depicted the revolutionary fervor of the emergent black political regime whose stated ideology of socialism regimented Zimbabweans under an authoritarian state. In a dramatic reversal from the nationalist campaign promises for a free press and free expression in an independent Zimbabwe, during this period the press was coerced to support the government. In this environment the message has been: You are either with us or against us. However a number of developments in the mid and late-1980s ushered in the post-transitional era. The end of the Cold War and the subsequent abandonment of a socialist rhetoric in favor of (at least on paper) a market economy and free enterprise by the Zimbabwe government, has given rise to a new generation, albeit a minority, of more assertive, independent publications and journalists.

INTRODUCTION

As the international community celebrated World Media Day on 3 May 2003, Zimbabweans observed the occasion with a carefully chosen theme: "the media we have is not the media we need." This summed up what Zimbabwean journalists in the independent media have gone through under the Mugabe regime. The theme also described the harsh economic and political realities the media are currently experiencing. The Zimbabwe government's onslaught against the independent press in Zimbabwe reached a new crescendo with the enactment of two laws: The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and the Public Order and Security Act (POSA). The two laws, which are remarkably similar to laws passed by the colonial regime of Ian Smith, lend credence to the characterization of the Zimbabwe Government as a dictatorship, undemocratic and neo-colonialist. This goes against the grain of the spirit, letter, and intent of the independence struggle and the expectations of citizens when Zimbabwe attained independence in 1980. For while the Zimbabwean Constitution guarantees freedom of expression and assembly as well as a multi- party democracy, both AIPPA (which ironically spells the word for "bad" in the Shona language) and POSA have become the legal smokescreen for undermining both freedom of expression and opposition politics in Zimbabwe. According to AIPPA, "Any published statement, which is intentionally, unreasonably, recklessly, maliciously or fraudulently false and either (1) threatens the interest of defense, public safety, public order, the economic interests of the state, public morality or public heath or, (2) is injurious to the reputation, rights And freedoms of other persons, will be punished." The Media Institute of Southern Africa argues that the law is too vague and gives limitless powers to the government-appointed Media and Information Council a regulatory regime that will act as an information policeman in style Zimbabwe. MISA concludes: "The law still remains dangerous and unacceptable since it calls for the accreditation of journalists and media houses. Restrictions on access to information remains and a great deal of power is granted to public officials and the MIC."[1] Government appointed members of the Media and Information Commission (MIC) are tasked with licensing media practitioners. The author of this legislation, Minister of Information Jonathan Moyo, has argued that the legislation exists to protect Zimbabweans against western imperialist propaganda as well as to spearhead a new cultural revolution. …

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