On October 22 2013, Professor Jonathan Moyo gave a guest lecture at the at the National University of Science and Technology titled “The Future of the Media in Zimbabwe’’. In it he discusses the polarisation of the media in Zimbabwe especially between 2000 and 2013, the reasons of this polarisation, the historic aspects of how the media is structured in Zimbabwe, and what he sees as what the media will look like in the future. Below is the full lecture:
THERE is a challenge here, one will have to speak holding a microphone which I am sure you think politicians are used to. Normally, someone else should hold the microphone.
But thank you very much Master of Ceremony Mr Thabani Mpofu and the Head of Department Ms Nqobile Nyathi and thank you very much Acting Dean Dr Ndabezinhle Dlodlo and I understand Head of the Publishing Department and a well-known publisher and former student of mine at the University of Zimbabwe. He was one of pioneers of the MPA [Masters in Public Administration] programme in1988, which I am sure to many born-frees here sounds like a long time ago.
We have here our provincial information officer Mr Chamboko whom you should know and if you have interest such as one expressed regarding possibilities of you getting a licence, maybe you might get better help from him than me.
Thank you also to other members of staff of the university who are here, and to you all ladies and gentlemen, comrades and friends.
I noticed that when Dr Dlodlo referred to you as comrades and friends, he felt some pressure to explain himself that someone else had written this. But I am sure we are indeed comrades and friends.
I also noticed from his introduction, which obviously he did not write, he read something about me having been elected to the House of Assembly in 2005 and said something about 2008, but in a typical example of what happens in journalism, he decided to omit that I lost elections in July this year. Anyway, it is a pleasure to be with you this morning and interact and exchange views.
I must say though that I was a bit concerned to hear Mr Mpofu encouraging you to prepare all sorts of questions and that you should not restrict yourselves to what I am going to say or even to my portfolio in government – he said about anything, everything. So I am like, well, if that is what is going to happen, why don’t we start with that?
The topic is about “The Future of the media in Zimbabwe.” What is the future of the media in Zimbabwe as I see it? I wondered why I was given what comes across as a rather straight-forward, simple and comfortable topic like this. And I thought maybe there are two reasons and one is because since this is happening in the context of a school of journalism dealing with media issues, which media issues in recent years have been quite controversial or generated controversial issues, this was a way of keeping me away from the controversies that are current and talk about the future that is not yet here.
It is always safe to do so, or maybe it is because even though Dr Dlodlo was charitable to read that I am somehow seconded to politics or government by academia, all the same was a feeling that let us keep it safe for him and not create political problems by having him just talk about the future.
But it so happens that you cannot talk about the future without talking about the past and therefore the present. After all, many say the future is what we live today not least because once upon a time today was the future.
Now, what then is the future of the media in Zimbabwe? I think we should first get a sense of what exactly is the media, what is it that we are talking about with reference to the media and without unnecessarily complicating an issue which is in fact very simple.
We must remember that the human being, the human species, is unique and distinguishes itself from other species by virtue of having the power of speech, the power of communication, the power to exercise, express rationality through speech and that this power is the foundation of the media and that this power of speech, which is unique to the human being, is the reason why freedom of expression is important because of the presumption that each and every human being is born with that power, that capacity to exercise speech, to interact with other fellow human beings.
If we lived as individuals or hermits somewhere in the mountains or wilderness, we would have challenges in exercising this God-given capacity to speak, to communicate, but it so happens in the history of our evolution, that in fact we don’t live as individuals but we live as communities. We live in the first instance as families and in the second instance as communities of all sorts of nature, composition and size and the larger these communities get the more difficult it is for us to exercise our God-given capacity to communicate.
The best way of communicating is not through journalism, is not through the press and not through broadcasting, indeed is not through the media but through your own mouth. That is the best and most desirable communication that God intended. He did not intend that there be a press nor that the press should claim some freedom over other things because it is artificial. The press is a socially-contrived structure that was not created by God.
The only important things in life are those that are created by God. Anything which God has not created is not important. It is a creation of human beings for one reason or another, sometimes for a good reason and many times for a very bad reason. This is why some of us have never subscribed to the notion of a free press because we realised that only a few among us can have it, can own it. None of us is born with it, we cannot all be Rupert Murdochs! But we all have our rationale or rationality given by God which we discharge through speech.
However, because of the importance of communities, we accept that we must come up with social means for enabling communication, for making it possible for us to communicate as members of communities and in particular and for purposes of this discussion as members of nation states. As countries, it is not possible to communicate in the natural way and therefore the media becomes important. And the media as you know is not just the press, the media is the totality of all means of communication available in a mass society, and these available means are subject to social invention. They are not exhaustive; they always grow as civilisation grows.
We always, as human beings, continuously discover new and even better ways of communicating. And all those ways taken together, including our speech interpersonal, all those ways constitute the media. Now, if this is indeed the case as I am certain it is, what then is the future of the media in Zimbabwe?
I would like to suggest to you that the future of the media in Zimbabwe is one that will be characterised by and which will reflect a multiplicity of view points, united by a common national Zimbabwean ethos which will project a Zimbabwean identity, driven by shared professional values and ethical norms with competing business interests and owned by a few.
Therefore, I believe that the future of the media in Zimbabwe is very bright, so bright that you should take comfort that those of you in this hall who have chosen the media as an area of study and source of employment have in fact chosen the right profession in terms of its employment promise. This I am also certain about it.
Now, I also believe that this future is here now with us today – a future of a media sector in our country that reflects multiple view points but which are anchored on a common national platform, a shared national platform of values but which is essentially professional in its conduct and therefore is committed to certain principles that are unique to it of a professional nature. And which exists only in so far as it is based on a viable business model not a sponsored project of anybody, not as a sponsored project of an NGO, church or foreign donor and indeed not as a sponsored project of the state but as a viable business project.
Now, while I am suggesting such a future is starting, it has really not taken root so as to be visible and institutionalised. It is not with us today. I would like to suggest four reasons why it is not with us today and five reasons why it is going to be with us tomorrow. So let us start with the four reasons why this kind of media dispensation which I am sure all of you would like to see, all of us would like to see, why we haven’t seen it.
The first reason is that as we all know Zimbabwe is 34-years-or-so-old as a nation and we got our independence after a protracted struggle. We are an independent nation because of that struggle. However, as far as the media is concerned, what we call the media today, it is important for us and especially for you students of the media to note that the media was not part of the struggle, that the media was not part of the liberation struggle, or to put it graphically, the pen was not part of the struggle and the pen did not contribute to our liberation. It is the gun that liberated us, not the pen.
Of course, there are anecdotal examples which people might want to show, pick this newspaper or that magazine, Moto or this, but the media is a much more systematic and institutional process of information, communication. It was not an important part of our struggle. In fact there are a number of other things which share this history with the media, for example civic society was not part of the struggle, the independence struggle. All these NGOs were not part of the struggle.
The notable exception is the church. The church was part of the struggle; traditional leaders were part of the struggle and that is why we continue to move together with them occasionally with differences, but generally we always remind each other that we were part of the liberation movement.
Now, there are institutions that have come up in our society and are playing a major role but were not part of the struggle, it doesn’t mean they are not important. I mean many of you here, if not all of you, were not part of the struggle, but that does not make you unimportant. We are trying to contextualise things here. We are not saying because the media was not part of the struggle it is therefore of no consequence, no.
But it is quite liberating especially for a student of journalism, a Zimbabwean student of journalism, to come to terms with the fact that this profession of yours was not part of the struggle. That tempers your disposition, and your assertions and claims and it puts them in a historical context.
We have to remember in Rhodesia, we had the electronic media, broadcasting and then the print media. The electronic media was run and owned by the Rhodesian state and the print media by business interests from South Africa which supported UDI (Unilateral Declaration of Independence) such that the mainstream media in our country during the liberation struggle, both print and electronic, supported the Rhodesian state, supported UDI.
So there was nothing to inherit, nothing progressive to inherit at independence from a media point of view and in a comprehensive, inclusive sense of the media, we have had to pay a price for that, we are paying a price today for that.
The state of the media today is very polarised, has been especially for the last 13 years of the existence of your school. Your school is 13-years-old and it is a product of a very polarised media environment, poisonous we say the environment not you, not the school. And partly because of that inheritance of the liberation struggle during which the media was not a factor, in fact the media was used to demonise the liberation struggle, to demonise freedom fighters to suggest that they were anti-Christian, evil, barbaric with no values worth celebrating or worth being proud of, that was the view of the mainstream media. Now that is the first reason why we have this situation.
The second reason is that at independence, the new state inherited the media that was set up by the Rhodesians and in the case of broadcasting we even asked the British through the BBC to help us set up a new broadcasting service and all this thing of Radio 1, 2, 3, 4 which was not really creative at all is British stuff. How can you say Radio 1, Radio 2, Radio 3, Radio 4? I mean anybody can do that, even a nursery school child. It does not show thinking.
That is why we got rid of that arrangement and we have Radio Zimbabwe, Spot FM, National FM, and Power FM, at least you can… (interrupted by audience laughter).
But we inherited that and asked the erstwhile colonisers to help us set up a new thing, but we did not think seriously about how to ensure that this new broadcasting service should reflect multiple view points, the full spectrum of national discourse, national opinion based on one common national platform, one nationality, united nation and driven by professional values.
So we took a lot of things for granted and did not consider the ideological challenges that come with the construction of the media in a new independent state. And in the case of the print media we simply bought out the South Africans, Angus Press used to own all the mainstream media. We bought them out thanks to a grant that was given to us by the Nigerians who gave us $5 million. We just bought them out.
Again, without raising fundamental issues about the redesign, if you look at Zimpapers today its structure is as it was in Rhodesia as we speak right now. Still structured like that. It has some sense of a southern and northern part of the country and there is a belief that the northern part is more important than the southern part.
Instead of viable business units, it uses branches as if it is a tree. We haven’t subjected it to an ideological shake-up that reflects the values, ideals and ethos of the new nation of Zimbabwe as a united nation, not one with southern and northern and branches and so forth. We inherited that. That is the second reason that has come to haunt us and we have paid a price. That’s the second issue.
The third issue which explains why the situation is like this is that those interests in our country which have sought to come up with whatever you want to call it – alternative media, independent media – which we all know is a fallacy, or private media, which we also know is a fallacy… if it is private why don’t you do it in your house in private and leave us alone?
But the private media, independent media, has emerged in Zimbabwe in opposition of what has been perceived as the state media or a public media. It has not emerged out of independent values of expressing a legitimate but perhaps different viewpoint which is national, based on national interest and which is professional opposed to political; which is run by men and women who have diplomas and degrees and experience in the profession, as opposed to political commissars masquerading as journalists and doing so in opposition of the state media inherited without a critical reformation and therefore emerging out of a historical circumstance which is in fact very narrow.
This is the way the independent media is developed and sometimes formed by very angry people who have been victimised by the state in one way or the other and then who conclude they were victimised because they didn’t have a platform of self expression or self defence. If you are a human being with the God-given capacity you can rule, speak and defend yourself but if you don’t, what do you do? So some of these elements who had been in their view victimised, they found it necessary to start the media and fight the state, fight the government.
And in some cases the victimisation was because of a misunderstanding with one important government person and then they start thinking because that important government person wanted ten percent of the business and doesn’t get it, they fight. This guy becomes famous and has a lot of money, has lots of friends and starts a newspaper.
But before that development, here in Zimbabwe there were attempts by international capital to form independent newspapers especially by Lonrho and Tiny Rowland. This they were doing all over colonial states, you would get a multi-national corporation which used to support colonial interests but now finding themselves in an independent country making capital available to form newspapers to defend their interests. We had the Times here, even the history of the Financial Gazette has those elements.
We are paying the price for that because that is inconsistent with the kind of dispensation of the media I said is coming in the future. We are paying the price, we can share anecdotes about empirical consequences of that situation, but that is the third reason.
The fourth reason is that these three paradigms, these three first reasons ended up creating a climate of opinion in our country that divided Zimbabweans along political lines or along political positions and polarised public opinion and polarised public discourse.
The polarisation is what we have seen over the past 13 years. The reason it happened this way, which is really the fourth reason, is that the erstwhile colonial power took advantage of this situation and started having media projects, new media projects which purported to be about democracy in Zimbabwe claiming there was no democracy in Zimbabwe; about human rights, about good governance, about fighting corruption, about personal freedoms and gave the impression that these things were not present in our country and they started being sought in 2000, that until the year 2000 these things were not part of our public life, our politics, our policies, our relations and our governance.
This comes up only 20 years after our independence. Twenty years may be a long time in your life yourselves, but it is not a long time in the life of a country, it is nothing. And 20 years down the line you find the country facing this whole human rights onslaught, a country which actually fought for its liberation struggle and which liberation struggle was informed by a historic need to restore these things – democracy, human rights, good governance, freedom . Suddenly somebody comes and says but this is precisely what is not here, so let’s fight for these things and creates multiple media projects.
You will recall I think in 2001, the former American Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner, when he was making a presentations before a sub-committee of congress boasting that the US government was working with NGOs and media practitioners in Zimbabwe and outside Zimbabwe within the region to effect regime change in Zimbabwe. And the media became a major major partner in the regime change agenda.
So we had the development of a whole media sector informed by, driven by, controlled by and sponsored by merchants of regime change having nothing to do with that communication capacity which God gave us but which disappears in a mass society and which requires us to invent ways of continuing that communication which became driven by a political agenda to fight the roots of our existence as a new country, an independent country.
And we have so many examples of that media, which some schools like yours… I didn’t take a particular look at your school, I did not audit you, we were busy auditing ZBC. We don’t have enough time, I am not sure what you have been doing but I would not be surprised if you were audited to find out that you have been either recipients of this support or celebrated it or presented it as an example of media freedom contributing to the polarisation. Academics have been part of this, right in the thick of things.
Now, these four things explain this very difficult background that we have in terms of our media in Zimbabwe but fortunately for us when we look ahead there are five things which address exactly the problems arising from this background and which give me reason to be very optimistic that the future of the media in our country is very bright indeed.
The first, and I am going to go through these quickly so that I give you time to ask questions, the first one is that there is something about the outcome of the recent elections which has created a very new situation, new political situation in our country arising out of the size, the magnitute of the mandate which President Mugabe got in elections — 61 percent — and which Zanu-PF got in parliament — more than two thirds majority, commanding majority. It was unprecedented in fact, we have not got such an outcome, election outcome even the 1980 result was not like this, so it’s like new independence.
The first independence was after 15 years of a struggle, at least if you disregard the 1890 stuff and so forth. But if you look from 1965 to 1980, 15 years, we got that result. This one was after 13 years, a difference of two years but the similarity in terms of historical significance is the same, that is why people said it feels like 1980. There is something about it which is reminiscent of the spirit of 1980. If you were not here in 1980 when we became independent, you have been given a chance to feel it too, to experience it.
I can assure you historians will record this and say what was very instructive about it, it was the Zimbabweans as the electorate giving President Mugabe a resounding mandate and it needed to be huge to avoid doubt and contestation. If it was very narrow, then we would be in trouble, it would be business as usual. But it was so huge as to say “please, you said in your manifesto if you win you will resolve these things and address the aspirations of Zimbabweans and unite Zimbabweans and address issues of their livelihoods, there is the mandate, do it!”
If we were not given that mandate, there would have been continued political bickering but now there is no excuse. You said “you can do it, there do it and let’s see!” This mandate is making it possible for Zanu-PF to address real issues, to address all the issues that have remained unfinished business since 1980 and in particular to address those issues which created an opportunity for the donors led by our erstwhile colonial power to take advantage and say “ah, there is all this room of human rights discourse, democracy, good governance, and all these issues of fighting corruption which you have not done because you say you are building the nation, you are fighting Renamo and there was apartheid.”
There are all these reasons which we can give you but which reasons ended up creating room for western imperial powers to say the crisis in your country come 2000 is a crisis of government. So we are now in a position to deal with these things, and pull the carpet below their feet and say these are our own issues, democracy is ours, human rights is ours, good governance is ours that’s why we fought the liberation struggle. If we didn’t do these things in 20 years or 34 years, we can point to the reasons without using those reasons as an excuse for continuing not to do those things.
After all, if we compare ourselves with other countries, some of them took much longer than 20 or 34 years to adequately address these things. America took over 100 years to address, they continued to have slavery over a 100 years since their creation. We are not like that. In fact we are attending to this business pretty early after our independence and this is why this mandate is very very important and one of the major major things that must now fall into place is the role of the media, the purpose of the media, the structure of the media because it is our means of communication. It is very important in everything else we do.
You cannot have national development with a divided, polarised media fighting against each other; failing to come to grips with major centres of thought in the country; failing to unleash creativity of thought and action in the country; caught up in political debates giving the false impression that politics is the only major sub system of our society; failing to appreciate that the most important part of our society is our economy and that everything else including our politics depends on our economy.
In fact this failure is so serious that I don’t know about you guys who are being trained but if you look at all media houses, national ones, they have amazingly institutionalised ignorance on economic and business matters that there is no newsroom with very competent business people even those that call themselves business newspapers they don’t have business reporters who write serious business stories, well informed business stories. Our media if you compare with South African media, Nigerian media, Kenyan media, it is critically lacking in these areas. They don’t tell any other story adequately besides political stories and the debate is still raging as to whether they tell political stories adequately.
Now, we must address this issue, the political environment is right for us to do that, no-one should make an excuse anymore. This is a very important issue, it has all sorts of implications about the kind of training programmes that we have, the schools, because we said we must now engage each as to what is our national interest. Do we have a shared understanding of that national interest? We now must engage ourselves as to what are the professional requirements of media practitioners? It was easy in the day of the press when we used to talk of journalists, but we no longer talk of journalists and we don’t know what the future of those people who call themselves School of Journalism is because it is more than that now. When we are talking about the media, you create an opportunity for all sorts of people coming there and saying “I’m also the media. ”
No professional standards, no ethical standards — they just use the platform, use of platform equals media and that is not right. But we have that opportunity out of this, so let us see what is going to happen between 2013 and 2018, we think big things are going to happen.
We are definitely committed to de-polarising the media. We don’t want the media to be defined on the basis of who owns it, we want the media to be defined on the basis of what it does professionally. To us, there is no Daily News, NewsDay, Southern Eye, Northern Eye, Western Eye, Eastern Eye, nothing of the sort.
There is everyone and we are interested in working with everyone. That’s the first thing.
Fifth, we are now clear in terms of our constitution that there must be recognition of the inherent dignity and worth of the human being. We can’t allow our colonisers to run away with the notion that they are more interested in the dignity of our people than we are, it does not make sense. That was political theft and we must now reclaim what is ours and make clear that is indeed our own commitment and that is why it is a founding value and principle in our own constitution.
Sixth, we now have to be very clear that we recognise the equality of all human beings. There are no human beings that are more equal than others as a matter of our constitutional commitment.
Seventh, which is good news to all the women here, because we fought for our liberation knowing that it was women and men fighting for it, we must be very committed in real terms to gender equality as a constitutional commitment, as a foundation and a principal value. It’s not someone else telling us that, it’s ourselves. It’s our own constitution; it’s not a British agenda.
Eighth, we must be committed to good governance not only in terms of national institutions and agencies but to all public institutions and that is why we have to do things at ZBC, we have to do things at Zimpapers and all these places and where we find them not doing things according to good governance, we are not going to accept any reasons based on history, status and so forth. It’s proficiency, performance!
And lastly, nine, we must show respect for and of the liberation struggle as a constitutional requirement. It’s in the constitution which was voted for by Zimbabweans on the 16th of March and which first became law, some aspects of it on the 22nd of May and all aspects of it on the 22nd of August now binding us and this is very good stuff. We didn’t have this background, now we do and that assures me that the future of the media can only be bright because this is now the new foundation.
Third, there are technological developments that necessitate change. If you let them run ahead of you, you will pay the price. A lot of media houses that have invested too much in politics are now being overtaken by technology and will be consigned to the dustbins of history, and in particular the digital migration that is underway with respect to broadcasting services, television, only creates new opportunities which require new content creation, which content creation cannot be satisfied if we were to produce it only from one view point.
This necessarily requires the full expression of all points of view that are possible within our country against the background of our constitution and common national ethos. That is three.
Four, the economic situation is dictating that if you set up the media only for political purposes without business or economic reason, you will collapse. Some are retrenching right now, we will not mention their names, but it’s not because of anything other than wrong strategies informed by politics when they could have been focusing on business.
Lastly, five, there is a new generation and all these people who were born since independence or two or so years before independence have completely different values which are not entirely reflected by the three first reasons or even four that explain why we are like this, they are much more progressive by definition as a social group.
They are a product of a different historical environment, generally speaking in global terms. If you have a child of your own or someone else’s child you are exposed to, you will see that they are different from you, that by the time they become your age they will not behave like you. They are more tolerant, more understanding, more forgiving, and generally on good terms with everyone unlike you.
So we have a new generation which is coming onto the scene with new values and happily for us the values of this new generation are consistent with the founding values and principles of our constitution and they are also consistent with the values of our liberation struggle and they guarantee the future of our country will be very different in very significant ways. And this new generation, unlike most of you, are very patriotic and they consider without any question President Mugabe as their icon. They are very much connected with him, because of patriotic reasons they are fascinated by him.
When we tell them that we had to fight the liberation struggle and so forth they say, ‘how many were you?’ And we say, ‘about five or six million’. ‘And how many were the whites?’ ‘About 250 000 or so’. They can’t understand how five million people could be controlled by 250 000 and their disposition is free, they are truly patriotic and they are instinctively connected with resource nationalism, they want to see the utilisation of the resources of their country to benefit themselves.
They think it’s unfair for other countries to exploit our resources. In fact the untold story, some of you are into filmmaking but most of you are into telling stories. One of the untold stories is about the values of this emerging generation of Zimbabweans and you are so fixated with values of past generations and you condemn our country on the basis of yesterday’s values and not looking at what is emerging on the horizon which gives some of us the hope that we have, that the future of the media in Zimbabwe is bright and it will be a media dispensation that reflects different viewpoints, multiple view points but based on the common national ethos driven by professional values with competing business interests.
Thank you very much.