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C h a p t e r 4 The Media Battlefield: From Skirmishes to Full-Fledged War A feeling of freedom flourished when, at Independence, the ZANU-PF government announced its determination to remove the Rhodesian Front regime’s strict state controls on the media. ‘‘Not only will the media be genuinely free in an independent Zimbabwe; they will also be responsible as well as responsive to the will of the majority,’’ promised Nathan Shamuyarira, minister of information and tourism and former journalist.1 However, this spirit of goodwill was short-lived and the media soon became another contested terrain between the government and civil society. Notwithstanding individuals such as respected nationalist and journalist Willie Musarurwa, Mugabe’s regime was and has remained profoundly hostile to a pluralistic system of information. This intolerance took various forms in the 1980s and 1990s, although at the time there was the widespread illusion entertained by civic activists and journalists that private-owned media was strong enough to safeguard the freedom of information and keep the government in check. In the context of the economic and social decline of the late 1990s, the tense relationship between the small but dynamic private press and the government escalated into open confrontation, first in January 1999 and again after the February 2000 constitutional referendum, as part of the whole political crisis. From then on the government waged war on the independent media, using an impressive range of weapons such as verbal abuse and threats, random violence by militias, sabotage, and the recourse to a new, oppressive legal framework. But before we turn to the The Media Battlefield 119 ongoing clampdown on press freedom, we need to survey briefly the media scene since independence. Government Media Policy After Independence and into the 1990s The first decade of majority rule saw the large state-owned print and electronic media becoming increasingly politically controlled, leaving a very limited space for a few private newspapers and magazines. The second decade saw a significant expansion of the private print press, both in terms of the number of titles published and circulation figures. This was certainly a source of irritation for the ruling party bosses but did not change the overall balance between the large government-owned media and a few independent voices, if only because the president successfully resisted the pressure to liberalize television and radio ownership. In 1981, the Zimbabwe government received a U.S.$5 million grant from Nigeria to buy out Zimbabwe Newspapers (1980) Ltd., known as Zimpapers and formerly the Rhodesian Printing & Publishing Company Ltd., a subsidiary of South African Argus Printing and Publishing Company . At the time, the purchase of the Rhodesian Printing & Publishing Company seemed justified from the nationalist point of view as part of the decolonization policy. However, it must be said that the Herald and the Chronicle, which were owned by Zimpapers, were frequently censored under Ian Smith’s regime, and many (white) journalists fought to preserve editorial independence. These papers were not just propaganda mouthpieces of Smith’s government, unlike Rhodesian television and radio. The Mass Media Trust (MMT) was created in January 1981 to handle the Nigerian grant and ostensibly to act as a buffer between the government and Zimpapers.2 The same year Minister Shamuyarira boasted to the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, ‘‘We created the MMT so that the media would be in neutral hands and not business tycoons or the government—that would quash the free voice of journalists.’’3 A rather ironic statement in view of what is happening today, a betrayal of promises that does not seem to bother Shamuyarira—no longer a cabinet minister but a long-time ZANU-PF secretary for information. Admittedly some safeguards were introduced in the Trust’s constitution to protect journalists against state and ruling party interference. For example, members of Parliament, civil servants, and uniformed services people could not be appointed as trustees. Originally the MMT had a controlling share of 43.42 percent in Zimpapers, and it was only after 1986, when the country was apparently on the path to the one-party state, that 120 Chapter 4 the MMT secretly acquired an absolute majority—about 51 percent of the equity. Since 1981 Zimpapers has controlled the major part of the print press: two dailies, the Herald in Harare and the Chronicle in Bulawayo, with their respective sister Sunday papers, the Sunday Mail and Sunday News. For most of two decades the Herald and the...


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MARC Record
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