By Criswell Chisango
London, November 18, 2013 – Exiled Zimbabwean media practitioners are keen to return home and set up their enterprises from home soil once the government creates a conducive operating environment.
Speaking during a discussion programme on the state of exiled media held in London on Sunday evening, Wilf Mbanga, the founding Editor of The Zimbabwean weekly newspaper, told delegates attending the 5th annual international conference organised by the Open Society Foundation that he is ready to come home if the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) cancels the warrant of arrest issued against him and following government gestures to engage the media under Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Minister, Professor Jonathan Moyo.
“I am ready to come home. The ZRP Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri must rescind the warrant of arrest issued that I wrote a false story in 2008 that President Robert Mugabe plotted to kill election officials who presided the 2008 elections when he narrowly lost to Movement for Democratic Change(MDC-T) leader Morgan Tsvangirai. I never wrote that story and I am not a fugitive at all although police insist that I have a case to answer. My lawyer went there but still they cannot guarantee my safety,” said Mbanga, who is also the former editor-in-chief at Ziana News agency and a co-founder of the Daily News.
The veteran journalist told delegates that it used to be difficult to get official comments from government sources before his publication was registered by the Zimbabwe Media Commission last year.
Mbanga, the publisher of The Zimbabwean newspaper, added that government officials are now free to give their side making it easier to balance the stories.
However, Mbanga castigated international media that “parachuted journalists on whistle stop visits to write the Zimbabwean stories without proper background.”
“What is left after the 31 July election is hope among Zimbabweans. The Zanu PF government cannot take away hope from us as they cannot control the economy as long as they need international support. Currently 2.2 million people face starvation although the government controls everything. We want to tell a real Zimbabwe story that has some media gaps,” said Mbanga.
Gerry Jackson, the founder and station manager for London based Short Wave Radio Africa and also formerly with ZBC’s Radio 3 now known as Power FM, conceded that the 31 July election dampened the spirit of media freedom in Zimbabwe.
“There is no electoral democracy in Zimbabwe. It is a challenge to rebuild the society where the civil society, opposition political parties are disorganized,” said Jackson.
She added that the new government will never respect the rule of law as they shut down her independent Capital Radio station in 2000 after the Supreme Court ruled that she be granted a licence.
“’It lasted only six days and the new constitution will not be worth the paper written on it as long as there is no rule of law,” Jackson said.
Besides Jackson’s SW Radio Africa other exiled radio stations include the Washington- based Voice of America’s Studio 7 and the privately owned Radio Voice of the People (VOP) which are labeled pirate radio stations by government authorities. Radio VOP has applied for a broadcasting licence three times and turned down by the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe.
Radio VOP’s executive director John Masuku is among delegates attending the forum and will on Tuesday afternoon chair a session on building and managing communities and networks through social media, user-generated content and ethical journalism standards.
Moyo has extended a “hand of reconciliation” to independent media with permanent secretary George Charamba calling exiled media among those who operate the so-called pirate radio stations to be organised so that government can invite them to “listen to their side of the story.” Moyo and his deputy Supa Mandiwanzira have in recent weeks called meetings with a diverse spectrum of media and media related stakeholders in an operation which critics have criticised as aimed at charming the media following years of poisoned relationships.
Burma now popularly known as Myanmar is an example of how exiled media is rebuilding public confidence after one DVB multimedia broadcasting station was established after over twenty years operating from exile in Norway and Thailand.
Its representative, Aye Chan Naing told delegates here that they are “pushing through” although the country had military rule.
“No one wants to live in exile forever although there was government monopoly of late. We are not frustrated as the same officials that were against us are no longer using their stations but turn to us to air out their views. We accept that,” said Chang.
The 5th annual international exiled media conference, which is sponsored by the Open Society Foundation, is aimed at making a breakthrough in isolated societies facing challenges in media freedom to share experiences, network and nurture public interest. Previous fora have been held in Hungary, Thailand and South Africa.