By Professor Matodzi
Harare, September 16, 2015 – Zimbabwe’s leading media lobby and reform body,Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) has slammed President Robert Mugabe for threatening to tighten the grip on media practitioners and warned that such statements exposes could the nonagenarian leader’s penchant for media repression.
Mugabe on Tuesday protested that journalists were peddling lies about his rift with his erstwhile ally Joice Mujuru and warned media practitioners not to cry foul when his government introduces repressive media laws.
The nonagenarian leader issued the threats against the media while addressing guests at a luncheon hosted for him by the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing following his howler in Parliament where he read the wrong speech for the official opening ceremony.
In condemning Mugabe, MISA Zimbabwe warned that the ZANU PF leader’s remarks demonstrates that his administration could easily resort to media repression at the slightest of opportunity using an array of undemocratic legislative instruments that remain at its disposal.
“Besides, such blatant threats can potentially trigger extra-legal violation of media freedom by political activists, who in the past have – with impunity – harassed and beaten up media practitioners as well as torched and barred from circulation media products they deemed reflected badly on their political parties and leaders,” reads part of a statement issued Wednesday by MISA Zimbabwe chairperson Kumbirai Mafunda.
Mafunda urged government officials to exercise restraint and desist from issuing such threats, which are not only in conflict with the letter and spirit of the constitution but inherently border on incitement to media freedom violations.
“There are available civil remedies that President Mugabe, government officials and indeed ordinary members of the public can pursue when aggrieved by the media. Seeking redress through the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe is one such avenue,” said Mafunda.
Apart from Mugabe, his wife, Grace in October last year intimidated and threatened journalists from the private media whom she singled out at a ZANU PF rally and accused them of being opposition activists. In February, former Media, Information and Broadcasting Services Minister Jonathan Moyo warned that government security officials would in future confiscate photographers’ cameras after they captured and shared pictures of an embarrassing incident at the Harare International Airport where Mugabe fell on a carpet.
Regional and international media bodies among them the Paris-based press watchdog Reporters Without Borders have classified Mugabe as a media “predator” whose administration has presided over the harassment, arrest, prosecution and the disappearance of journalists such as Itai Dzamara.