HARARE – Thank you very much for inviting me to this important discussion forum.
We at the Daily News are always most grateful for opportunities such as this one, where we can exchange notes with key opinion leaders in the country, and enrich each other on important national issues.
Allow me also to point out that your invitation to us came at an important time in the history of our country, characterised by worsening political and economic challenges.
Indeed, and as most of you will have read in the Daily News in recent weeks, the country’s economy is dying; poverty levels are worsening and the quality of life for the average Zimbabwean is much worse than it was when we got our independence from Britain in April 1980.
It’s not a pretty story.
And on the political side, the ruling Zanu PF is being ravaged by its worsening tribal, factional and succession wars all of which is a clear manifestation of the political transition under way in the party and the country, and which is the subject of our discussion today.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is a rough and brief synopsis of the climate in which we meet today, and in which the media operate in our country.
But before I focus on the specific topic which you asked me to discuss today with my colleagues, that is: “The Status of the Media and its Role in Zimbabwe’s Political Transition” please allow me to begin by talking generally about the business of news, and to also touch briefly on Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ) the publishers of the Daily News, the Daily News on Sunday and the Weekend Post.
I hope that as I do so, you will begin to see where I am heading, as I attempt to discuss today’s most interesting topic.
The business of news continues to change everyday in Zimbabwe and around the world as a result of fast-paced technological changes, as well as the equally stunning socio-political changes taking place.
Indeed, who could have predicted the world we now live in a mere 20 years ago, or that Donald J Trump would become the president of the most powerful nation in the world!
Another example, when I started working, there were only State media and a very small private press sector in the country. Today, the situation is radically different.
Not only is the independent media thriving commercially more than ever before, but news consumers also have the Internet, satellite television and social media to go to when they need to quench their information thirst!
This necessarily, as I indicated above, calls for a very different and innovative approach to news, particularly in a dying economy, a climate of deepening poverty levels, high joblessness, very low disposable income and a frightening choice of media options, including fake ones.
Our company ANZ is in the business of creating and making money out of news.
And flowing from this, ANZ’s strategy is premised on offering unique content to readers which is why we always do things the ANZ way, endeavouring to ‘‘Tell it like it is, without fear or favour’’!
And to underline another important point, we do not write what we write for ourselves, our friends, our families, politicians or so-called critics.
We write for our readers and this is the only way that ANZ and other media companies can continue to grow and thrive.
I hope that this strategic overview has helped to explain to some of you how we go about doing what we do.
Let me now attempt to zero in on our topic, which is: The Status of the Media and its Role in Zimbabwe’s Political Transition
The first thing to point out, and this is a matter that we at the Daily News have really done well around over the past six years, is to acknowledge that Zimbabwe is definitely undergoing a quickening and often chaotic political transition.
If any of you somehow doubt me, just look at the anarchy that is devouring Zanu PF.
A mere decade ago, the free-for-all taking place in the party where its bigwigs now openly disregard President Robert Mugabe’s directives and warnings would have been wholly inconceivable.
The second thing to point out is that YES, the media as a whole, particularly independent media such as the Daily News, have a crucial role to play in this chaotic transition.
Zanu PF bigwigs, even if some of them may deny this, all know and understand this incontrovertible truth.
Just as a small hint of this truth, who among you would have thought six years ago, when the Daily News returned to the market after our forced and unjust closure by the Zanu PF government for eight long years, that Zanu PF bigwigs from all its various structures and factions would be fighting to get a voice in the newspaper?
Ladies and gentlemen, this seemingly impossible reality is happening every day.
We at the Daily News now never have to chase “chefs” for news. They come to us, and we love it!
The fact is that, all role players in our country from civil society to unions, to business and political parties understand the critical importance of the Fourth Estate in our country’s unfolding political transition, and hence their understandable stampede to influence us.
Even the few political buffoons who needlessly sue us from time to time, and I shall not mention them because you all know them, do so out of a desperate quest to influence our news coverage around this unfolding political transition.
And here, let me digress a bit and give credit where credit is due.
President Mugabe as far as I’m aware, never sues the media despite being on the receiving end of some of the sharpest media scrutiny. I’m happy to stand corrected if I’m wrong.
Indeed, it is hugely problematic when those in government in particular, who wield immense executive powers, come across as thin-skinned, belligerent and unnecessarily litigious.
Our prayer is that those of our people who are in senior leadership positions will one day come to realise that it is not ideal, certainly unbefitting and ultimately not very helpful to Zimbabweans’ quests to build a fair, egalitarian and desperately-needed democratic society which the unfolding political transition is promising.
Of course, as critical as our role is in this transition, the Fourth Estate is also obliged to play a fair and objective role as it endeavours to be the mirror of society, and occasionally speak truth to power.
I can see some of you wondering how come then that our critics often go to town to do us down, if the media’s centrality in this unfolding transition is now widely appreciated?
The short answer here again is that our few remaining critics, mainly senior ruling party politicians, savage us because we do not write what they would like us to write about them, their political parties, their businesses, our country and the unfolding political transition.
Crucially, these few critics do not also believe in a marketplace of ideas and varying views in the country, and expediently confuse a robust and truthful media with a lack of so-called patriotism.
These politicians pine for the old and sycophantic media which saw no evil, heard no evil and never ever spoke truth to power.
They don’t want to accept that our duty is only to our readers and our country.
Not to individuals, businesses and political parties. Unless those individuals, businesses and political parties are advancing the interests of the country and ALL Zimbabweans, not selfish, sectional, tribal, regional, factional or succession interests.
This is why, by the way, we at the Daily News, as a national and patriotic newspaper, always ‘tell it like it is’: absolutely and unequivocally without fear or favour.
So, to conclude, the media have, and are playing a vital role in Zimbabwe’s political transition, and this is notwithstanding the many legal and political hindrances that still hamper our work.
Our agenda in all this is an honest one. And this is to inform, educate and entertain Zimbabweans, and to serve our country and our people to the best of our ability.
Does this mean that the media are above reproach or incapable of making mistakes? Of course not.
But that doesn’t make us any less important and valuable just because we sometimes get things wrong, as we strive to do the best for our readers and our country, particularly during this important political transition.
On that score too, I always find it curious that a few people often expediently chose to blame the messenger, the media, for their problems or Zimbabwe’s myriad challenges, rather than reflect properly on the real reasons why and how they and our country are in trouble.
Isn’t it also bizarre that a few rotten eggs in the country think that the media are a bigger problem than dealing with the serious corruption and economic crisis that is devouring the heart of our troubled nation?
In the twisted minds of such people, if you support them or praise Zanu PF, for example, then you are a good and objective journalist or newspaper. If you dare criticise them and the ruling party, then you are either “bought” or are a sell-out serving white or foreign interests.
It boggles the mind. Ladies and gentlemen, one of journalism’s most important functions, particularly at this crucial point of our political transition, is to be a watchdog over those who wield power, no matter how uncomfortable this can sometimes be.
Indeed, journalism is at its most useful to society and at its most patriotic when it is challenging and probing not fawning to our rulers.
I hope that with these few remarks, we can get a healthy debate going on our country’s unfolding political transition, in the interest of ALL citizens.
I THANK YOU.
• Gama presented this paper titled “The Status of the Media and its Role in Zimbabwe’s Political Transition” at a Sapes Trust Policy Dialogue Forum in Harare yesterday.Media key to political transition.