By Sij Ncube
HARARE, June 29, 2015 – The public media has deliberately remained mum on the drama surrounding the status of Information and Broadcasting Service minister, Jonathan Moyo, after he was allegedly kicked out of cabinet by President Robert Mugabe last Tuesday but analysts say it has unwittingly exposing itself as a captured press.
Moyo, who is known to have personally cheery-picking some of the editors in the public media following his appointment in September 2013 as Mugabe’s spin-doctor, has been conspicuous by his absence in the public media for the past week, rising public eyebrows and sparking conspiracy theories on his disappearance.
Analysts and media watchers say the state media should be in the fore-front of clarifying Moyo’s fate as has been in the past with most issues of public interest.
But while speculation continues to swirl on why Mugabe has decided to “temporarily” axe Moyo from his cabinet, the critics have been quick to point out that Moyo is no longer omnipresent in the government media, particularly in The Herald, The Sunday Mail, Chronicle and Sunday News.
Apart from the patronizing and bootlicking reportage in the public print press, critics note, Moyo has enjoyed unlimited freedom of the airwaves on the two public television channels – ZTV and ZTV 2 – and all four national radio stations as well as from the two pseudo independent radio stations Star FM and ZiFM.
Star FM is owned by Zimbabwe Newspapers, publishers of The Herald, Chronicle, The Sunday Mail and Sunday News, while ZiFM is owned by Zanu PF minister Supa Mandiwanzira and the two outlets have had no qualms in the past of toeing Moyo’s political line or jumping to his defence.
A week-long survey by Radio VOP indicates the public media last reported on Moyo last Wednesday in which the fire-brand minister lashed out at the Southern African Litigation Centre via Twitter for attempting to get Sudan President Al Bashir arrested.
However, of late his postings are surprisingly going unnoticed.
Rashweat Mukundu, a trained journalist-cum media consultant who chairs the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI), says it is not be surprising Moyo appears frozen out in the media, saying the obvious reason being that he is no longer in cabinet hence not making news.
“But the fact remains the state media is a tool at the disposal of those in power and used as such. So whether it is Moyo or any other Minister, the state media is in the shackles of the political and ruling class,” said Mukundu.
But an editor working for an independent daily newspaper, speaking strictly on condition is not named, countered arguing that Moyo still wielded control and influence at the government press.
“What has simply happened is the editors are waiting for political direction from him on what’s going on, but he also is unsure of his situation, leading to this flux situation. Remember, the editors’ own jobs may depend on if Moyo stays in the ministry, so the uncertainty and anxiety that Moyo may be feeling has also permeated down to the editors. It is now a wait-and-see game from both the editors and Moyo himself.”
But Charles Mangongera, a researcher and analyst with a local think-tank, said the deafening silence in the public media demonstrates the power wielded by the Zanu PF politician to the extent of ordering a blackout on the story of his exclusion from cabinet.
“If it was any other minister the public media would have gone to town about it but right now they are silent because they are not sure whether Moyo is coming or going,” said Mangongera.
Nhlanhla Ngwenya, the director of the Media Institute of Southern Africa, added his voice on the issue, pointing out that if all editors at the state media find nothing newsworthy in the Moyo story, then it affirms views that they have very skewed news values.
“But more telling is why they have found this story involving their ministerial master less important, when they often give presidential decisions front page prominence. It is these questions that have led observers to conclude that they are indeed under the minister’s control and have no spine to report on anything that reflects badly on him. They are in a fix wherein they have to choose between professionalism and not annoying the master, and it seems they prefer the latter. I am sure once Moyo’s position is made clearer they will also help in untangling the matter,” said Ngwenya.