We welcome self-regulation: Mahoso
Posted: Saturday, July 30, 2005
The Herald (Harare)
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July 30, 2005, allafrica.com
Conversation with Caesar Zvayi
ONE of the biggest problems Zimbabwe faced over the past five years is the problem of media terrorism that manifested itself in sensational reports in the privately owned Press and Western media, pirate radio stations that broadcast hate speech and a proliferation of on line publications pursuing the illegal regime change agenda. Today, Media and Information Commission Chairman, Dr Tafataona Mahoso talks about media practice and regulation in Zimbabwe.
Q: Dr Mahoso, you have been branded number one enemy of the media by some of the titles whose licences were cancelled. How would you describe your relationship with the media?
A: My relationship with the media depends on which media it is. There are so many media in Zimbabwe, as you know the word includes even those Internet sites that are proliferating. I would not mind being called an enemy of the media by some of those channels because they have become part of the global conveyor belt of lies. We live in a very dangerous world where the media have become an integral part of invasion. The examples of Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan and even Haiti and Granada and the Falkland Islands - all these are graphic examples of the abuse of the media and if the media which corroborate with such forces of inhumanity call me the number one enemy, it does not surprise me or cause me any regrets. However, there are other media in Zimbabwe who are trying to do an honest job and who are working under difficult conditions. I know that for instance, the programme of the foreigners in Zimbabwe since the 1990s has been to try to make the white minority voice the mainstream voice in Zimbabwe, and at the helm of this we have the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida) and Norwegian Development Agency (Norad). So we are aware of that programme and I know that the people who say I am an enemy of the media are people who are aware that I am aware of that strategy.
Q: The internet and on-line newspapers are presenting major challenges to the regulatory regimes of developing countries, how can Zimbabwe deal with the scourge of on-line newspapers some of which are peddling hate speech?
A: There are a number of fronts on which we should fight. The first one is that we must have some of our own sites which are reviewed regularly, the MIC is in the process of trying to do that, we have just interviewed the candidates for our Information Communication Technology section. We intend to have two things;
One is round-the-clock media monitoring, and each morning we review which stories were on radio, TV or even on the Internet in order to advise our stakeholders about what will be happening in the media.
The other front has to do with regulation, and at the moment I am not clear whether Government has actually decided which agency will be responsible for the electronic media beyond broadcasting. There has to be some legislation to regulate those channels that are not catered for under the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) or the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA).
The third front is by training and by training we do not mean training of journalists, training journalists is also important but we have to find ways of training the audience.
The Media Ethics Committee Report was an attempt to do that. We found out that the consultations that we held when we went out were effective ways of empowering people because, first of all we invited them to say what their experience of media had been and then we shared with them some insights which they might not have had. In the process they also told us what they wanted to be done with the media. So media users need to be trained but as in every country, they are scattered they have no centre of their own. We want media critics who are not journalists but who are citizens who can also advise citizen groups about the role of the media in a national setting.
Q: MIC has monitored the papers published in Zimbabwe, but you have done nothing about a paper called The Zimbabwean, which is always on our streets just like all other weekly papers and pirate radio stations. Are these media exempt from laws affecting titles published in Zimbabwe?
A: That is a concern of ours but as you know the Commission is not a law maker but is bound by the Act that it uses, it is empowered to make proposals to Government, and there is a proposal with Government on how The Zimbabwean problem can be solved. But while we wait for a response from Government we have of course not been idle, I think you will remember the responses that the MIC gave when the paper was first introduced. We believe that the moral critique of the Zimbabwean succeeded in weakening the paper and subsequently we are told that its finances are very weak and we do know definitely that its impact in the country is negligible. So if the Government eventually responds to the proposals that we put before it, it will not be because the paper has a huge impact, but because in future there may be six or seven similar papers being dropped into Zimbabwe from outside. But the weaknesses of the paper are very clear both morally, ethically and even technically because you can not write effective stories from a desk in London, and our people know what London stands for in Zimbabwe. So the paper more or less has discredited itself before the Government has actually legislated to control similar developments in the future. We are glad in fact that the people in Zimbabwe, because of their understanding of ethics and morality, their understanding of communication they have been able to resist this paper, so that it is simply tolerated as a nuisance among many other nuisances that we have to put up with.
Q: You chaired a Media Ethics Committee between 2001 and 2002 that looked into professionalism or lack thereof in the media, what were your findings and what became of the report you submitted?
A: The report was of course done for the Department of Information at that time, it was really meant as a policy guideline but it was also intended as a resource for media studies programmes. We have seen quite a number of these recommendations being implemented, the creation and strengthening of the BSA and the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe; the creation of MIC was actually echoed in the recommendations. What we discovered was that all the people we consulted recommended that we could not rely on voluntary regulation, there should be statutory regulation. The experience of the previous 21 years - for this was in 2001, had shown that journalists in Zimbabwe would not self regulate and that the manoeuvres that were being made by donors were making it even more unlikely. But we also dealt with training. We have seen a lot of the report being implemented, even the idea of local content, we can see the idea there.
Q: In one of your articles, you accused journalists of reporting events instead of relationships between events, and a few months ago your office said it was going to look into the curriculum and qualifications of the staff offering journalism training, how far have you gone with this initiative?
A: It is a huge project and we have already designed questionnaires, there are three of them, one for editors, one for media trainers and one for the students themselves. Rather than mail them, we decided that we should actually present them in person. What we have noticed is that the students are very eager to tell us what they are experiencing and the quality of their experience. The administrators are reluctant but so far we have said that we do not want to resort to section 50 of AIPPA, where we can actually subpoena information, we want a corroborative system, where they voluntarily give us information but the information has to be correct.
The questionnaires are very thorough, what they require is thorough documentation. How many students do you have per computer? How many students are there for every full time lecturer? How many part time lecturers do you have? What is the minimum qualification of the lecturers and so forth? There are also questions like what is the aptitude of the student you produce at the end of the programme, are you achieving that, what kind of examinations are you giving at the end of the programme? Who is able to double-check your examinations, is it a self-contained system where if you cheat on your own exam, nobody finds out? We believe that when the results come out it will be a big report. We already know a number of things that are quite disturbing, that the numbers of students who are in so-called journalism courses are too many. There are just too many students for the market. It appears that in one year, the training institutions produce enough students to replace all the full time journalists, which is unsustainable. Apart from the problem of quality the overcrowding is not good. It is important to mention that we do not have a statutory mandate to discipline the media training institutions, that mandate belongs to the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education. However, we do have power to influence and redirect and what we have done in recognition of that power is that we know for instance that we can give prizes, and there are a number of subject areas where of students excel we can give prizes of up to a million dollars. We want to give prizes in areas that we think are not being adequately addressed at the moment. Gradually, we want to tighten the qualifications, we will reach a stage where we say these certificates are not acceptable, and in fact we are already beginning to do that. There is one certificate going round, which has a good transcript but that can not be justified, this is a certificate obtained by correspondence school, than one we have already said we won’t use. The holders are using five published articles in lieu of the certificate.
Q: Critics say the MIC is being vindictive by waiting to pounce on Journalists who violate ethics, instead of monitoring the training to ensure that all who lay claim to journalism have been thoroughly trained. What you have outlined are long term measures, what will you do in the short term?
A: Our view is that it is not really the journalists, much of what we see as unethical conduct is the responsibility of the employers and editors, therefore everyone who approaches MIC wanting to register, a publisher or a mass media service, has to produce a proposed code of ethics. We are busy collating all the submissions from publishers; we will publish a volume of all the codes of ethics, which have been proposed by mass media service providers in Zimbabwe. There will be a section for newspaper publishers, magazine publishers, advertisers and publication houses. With a volume like that, we can then go to the stakeholders to say this is what you have suggested. We think that all of them are weak in certain areas, and those are the ones we want to discuss before we actually synthesise a national code. We believe that is the way to go. A journalist may have good intentions, and may have in his possession a good code of ethics, we have among the ones that we collected during the media Ethics Committee, a code ethics proposed by Geoffrey Nyarota, yet his practice had nothing to do with that code of ethics. It was just a paper, so we do not want to fool ourselves. When we come up with the code, it will be based on submissions and it will be discussed, our strategy is that once the volume is produced we will give it to media users.
Q: Some critics say the MIC has been visible only where a newspaper is about to be closed, apart from the closure of unregistered titles, what other changes has the MIC brought to the media?
A: The first change is simply that in 2002, around June or thereafter, because we were actually appointed afterwards, there was nothing except a piece of paper called AIPPA. So the problem with some journalists is that they see the coming of the MIC as an event, it is a very detailed process. From the Act we had to envision an organogram, an office structure, committee structures, even personnel — how to define people who work in the organisation. What is in the Act is just the board, the Commissioners. The Secretariat is not there, so we had to spell out the kind of posts essential to fulfil the requirements of the Act, all that has been done. We now have a Media Trust Fund in terms of the Act; the fund will be used for media development. The only hurdle is that the amount of money is not enough for the problems that we have to deal with. I believe in two and a half years, we have done a lot.
There was a workshop that was held in Nyanga after AIPPA became law, it was co-ordinated by Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA), but other so-called human rights organisations were there.
They gave themselves duties, the Law Society of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, (ZUJ) Independent Journalists’ Association of Zimbabwe (IJAZ), and ZIMRIGHTS - to scrap the legislation. Obviously the Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ) is best known for that, but there were various efforts all over the place. The first responsibility of the MIC is to defend the Act, and we have done that successfully, and it is only after the legislation is secured that we could implement the development side of the Act.
Much of that can not be visible, in the sense that you have to start by creating a Commission where there was just an Act, the fact that they can actually see a Commission becoming visible means that we have achieved something.
Q: And your relationship with ZUJ?
A: I understand that they have approached the Minister of Information with a proposal for self-regulation, and a code of ethics. There was an attempt to say that we (the MIC) are afraid of their ethics and we want to stop it no. In fact the problem is that it was ZUJ, IJAZ and MISA who have misled people and misled even the rest of the world that AIPPA makes self-regulation illegal and impossible. AIPPA does not actually forbid self-regulation, in fact, the Commission would be very happy if the journalists were able to discipline themselves because it would mean that our resources would then be directed towards the development side of the Act which is quite enough to absorb our energies and resources.
So we would welcome self-regulation, though we are saying that in terms of weight the employers have more weight in determining the direction of a newspaper than the journalists.
The original challenge to stop MIC did not come from ANZ, it came from ZUJ, which filed an urgent application before Justice Makoni saying the whole thing should stop, and they gave reasons. The first reason was that the form the MIC was using was demanding information that was too sensitive and too private to be given to a government agency. The second reason they gave was that the MIC had not notified the journalists and had not published the forms. All we did was to take forms which the journalists routinely fill at workshops, when they apply for loans or when they join an NGO, and the information was almost identical. It had everything, e-mail, home address, business address, telephone, the same information that MIC was asking for except for the fact that these NGOs and other organisations do not give legal guarantees that this information will be used for the purposes for which it is collected. We have two Sections in the Act, Section 50 and Section 33, which actually say this information will be used only for the purpose for which it is collected. We then produced articles which the journalists had published in the Sunday Mail, in the Daily News and other newspapers, to show that in fact the journalists were aware of the regulations and the procedures, so Justice Makoni actually threw out the case.
Q: The media is a critical institution in society, which is why some have called it the fourth estate. Do you feel the Zimbabwe media can be described as the fourth estate?
A: No! Because of the origins of journalism in the first place. Media operators say that they are there to promote accountability, democracy, transparency, human rights and so forth, so we asked the question during the Media Ethics Committee: Where did journalism come from as an aspect of communication? Journalism started as part and parcel of the machinery of foreign intervention, and I always refer to the example of Henry Morton Stanley, who came to Africa assigned by the New York Herald Tribune in 1869, what was he looking for? He was looking for the North Atlantic agenda in Africa, he was not looking for Africans and he is not known for writing a story about what Africans were doing or saying, he is known for recognising a white man in Africa – "Dr David Livingstone, I presume?"
We are saying therefore, when did journalism drop this agenda and start becoming a fourth estate, and we say that the part of the media which represents the majority interests in Zimbabwe came from exile during the Rhodesian days, it came from Mozambique, from Zambia, to the extent that the Director General of the Rhodesian Broadcasting Corporation in 1976 told an American Editor, "the reason why Africans are not allowed anywhere near a microphone is that they when an African gets a microphone he stirs up violence against the whiteman". So when we saw Sida and Norad, coming back in the 1990s wanting to reinvent that minority media to make it mainstream again, we found we did not have a fourth estate. We have a struggle between the external foreign voice embedded among us, and the African voice which has come from exile and is establishing itself and has not yet fully overcome the obstacles created by the minority media, and one reason is that Zimbabwe is a neighbour to a country where the minority voice is still mainstream - South Africa. That is why a hangman judge, Hillary Squires of the UDI and Apartheid era is being celebrated in the South African media as a man who is fighting corruption, when in actual fact the fact that Squires is a judge is in itself a manifestation of white racism as a form of corruption. If we were living in an uncorrupted world, Squires would be on trial at a war tribunal for the crimes against humanity in Rhodesia. So it is not yet a fourth estate, it is struggling to be.
Q: The MIC has again refused to register the ANZ, and some critics have reduced the issue to a Mahoso - ANZ affair, what exactly is the problem?
A: The first part to my answer is that the matter is still subjudice. But there are a few points that can be discussed, the first piece of information the public should know is that this was not a fresh application, it was an old application which the Supreme Court remitted to the MIC, and remittal means that the Supreme Court was saying to the ANZ go back to the MIC to have your case heard again, because you are alleging that when the decision to deny registration was made you were not given an opportunity to answer to each of the contraventions had submitted made in the determination. So the purpose off coming back was to have the ANZ answer the contraventions, and then the Commission decides whether those answers exonerated them or convicted them. That is the first part. The second part is that the determination is available, and there is no need to speculate what the reason for the basis of the decision were.
Lastly, the matter is in court, and we will submit to the courts.
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