After initially receiving a somewhat lukewarm reception, media self-regulation seems to be taking off in Zimbabwe.
Law-makers and citizens across the country’s highly polarised political divide embraced the body.
Under Zimbabwe’s media laws, particularly the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, complaints must be directed to the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC). This statutory body was set up in 2010 to licence local and foreign journalists and deal with complaints about media behaviour.
However, with this body almost non-functional, the civil society initiative known as the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ), set up in 2007 as an alternative to state regulation, is being kept busy.
Top Zanu-PF officials and others in government who had previously been hostile to a self-regulated media have of late been making a beeline for the VMCZ.
Munyaradzi Kerere, a Zanu-PF politician and former adviser to Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono, is one of several people who have filed complaints with the VMCZ against the Daily News and Newsday over a series of articles about his businesses and private life. The resolution of some of the cases is still pending.
Johnson Masawi, son of the late Zanu-PF spokesperson Ephraim Masawi, has also sought the services of the VMCZ over a story in Newsday in which his farmworkers alleged he was paying them a $13 monthly wage.
Others seeking the council’s assistance include Zanu-PF Mashonaland East chairperson Ray Kaukonde and Zanu-PF Women’s League member Irene Zindi.
Officials and rank-and-file members from the two formations of the Movement for Democratic Change have also kept the media body busy, among them Tendai Biti and Welshman Ncube, railing against what they perceive as partisan reporting.
Kurauone Chihwayi, deputy spokesperson of the MDC’s Ncube faction, has lodged several complaints over what his party believes is biased reporting by both the state and independent media.
Besides politicians, officials at the self-regulatory body say they have been inundated with complaints from ordinary citizens, including from churches.
Prophet Eubert Angel, a charismatic preacher, filed a complaint against the Daily News over an article alleging that Angel had verbally attacked a Nigerian preacher, Prophet TB Joshua, during one of his sermons.
VMCZ chairperson Alec Muchadehama, who is also a human rights lawyer, says complainants are gaining confidence in the body because it strives to be professional.
“We receive complaints from parties and people across the political divide and process them in terms of [the body’s] regulations, as established by the code of conduct as well as by its constitution,” said Muchadehama.
He said the VMCZ is not in competition with the government-appointed ZMC.
Tafataona Mahoso, the chief executive of the ZMC, defended his commission, saying the regulation of the media anywhere in the world should be done by the state.
“It [regulation] is happening everywhere. If you don’t regulate the media, you will end up inviting spies into the country.”
He said penalties for violations of media ethics are needed, “otherwise you are inviting chaos”.