Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Minister Jonathan Moyo is accused of using the media hearings as a battlefield to curry public favour.
The Information and Media Panel of Inquiry formed last year by Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Minister Jonathan Moyo to assess the state of the media sector in the country has been caught up in Zanu-PF’s internecine factional fights ahead of the party’s crucial elective congress in December.
The panel, known as Impi, is made up of editors from both public and private media, as well as marketing and advertising representatives, information and communications technology experts, civil society members and other professionals.
Sources close to the panel who spoke to the Mail & Guardian this week said the project has now become entangled in Zanu-PF’s factional battles as it is being viewed by Moyo’s rivals and critics as a platform for him to spread his political wings and raise his profile ahead of the congress.
The project is also making findings that are making the government jittery. One source said Impi, which incidentally means “war” in Nguni languages such as Moyo’s Ndebele dialect, has been viewed with serious suspicion – mainly by senior government officials and Zanu-PF leaders aligned to Vice-President Joice Mujuru. They fear Moyo wants to use it to push his political agenda and promote the faction led by Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Although insiders say it was approved by President Robert Mugabe’s Cabinet, Impi has left in its wake political suspicions and fears that have caused the Mujuru faction to rally against it amid concerns that it was stealthily moving to advance the agenda of Moyo and his allies.
This has resulted in Impi being discussed in Zanu-PF’s politburo meeting on June 4, where hostile and fierce exchanges resulted in Mugabe subsequently lashing out venomously at Moyo in a three-day verbal blitz that left both the minister and the nation dismayed.
Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation
At most Impi meetings, members of the public have voiced their anger with the state broadcaster, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), over its coverage of issues in the country. There have been complaints that ZBC television and radio programmes are boring, outdated and excessively repetitive, and that ZBC acts as an exclusive mouthpiece for Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party, hence its partisan news bulletins and programmes.
Members of the public have also complained about centralised information and media systems. They are demanding decentralisation and the licensing of independent broadcasters and community radio stations, among a raft of other changes and reforms that are making government uncomfortable, according to an official at the information ministry.
“Besides showing that ZBC’s voice is being drowned out by the Voice of America’s Studio 7, considered an illegal pirate radio station by Mugabe and his party, Impi is also exposing government failures in other areas. People are taking the opportunity to voice discontent on development and service delivery through Impi and this has left some government and Zanu-PF officials fuming,” said the official.
“The trouble is, Impi cannot censor public hearings. All the panel can do is sit there and listen and not defend the government, because that is not in its terms of reference. So the process has exposed deep-seated public discontent with the Zanu-PF government even after they won elections last year. That has left the Mujuru faction seething and Moyo [in] the firing line.”
Another source added: “Impi is hearing that complaints of government failure are nationwide, and this has angered some people in Zanu-PF as this embarrasses government.”
The panel, which started its work in April, has been travelling the country to collect information on media issues by holding public hearings. It has covered rural and urban areas, holding meetings with stakeholders, including ordinary citizens, consumers of media products, advertisers, the business community and various interest groups, among others. Its terms of reference include the need to “inquire into, assess and determine policy, legal, technological, business, human resource and institutional adequacy” in Zimbabwe’s information sector, and come up with recommendations on how to address the constraints and shortcomings identified in the media.
Impi has now almost completed its hearings, although it still has to do a mopping-up exercise, hold meetings with specific stakeholders and embark on regional trips to Kenya, Zambia and South Africa. Its drafting committee will soon start writing a report to be presented to Moyo and the government by next month.
Another source close to Impi said the conception, format and execution of Impi raised suspicions because, to begin with, there was no consensus about it in government and Zanu-PF circles, despite its Cabinet approval. Even though Moyo launched it publicly at a Harare hotel on April 2, questions are still being raised about it at Zanu-PF meetings.
A politburo source said the Mujuru faction is pushing the parliamentary portfolio committee on media, information and communication technology, chaired by Umzingwane MP William Dhewa, to summon Impi to explain the project and its objectives. Insiders say part of the problem is that when Impi holds hearings around the country it introduces itself to the public as Moyo’s project instead of as a government process, raising worries that it is calculated to promote the minister and his political allies in the Mnangagwa faction at the expense of their rivals in the Mujuru camp.
The approach has upset some government officials, mainly those aligned to the Mujuru faction, who say Moyo is also using the project to sanitise his image, which was dented by his previous record of media repression in government.
A government official said provincial intelligence officers, who also attend the meetings, have been sending reports to the government saying only Moyo’s name is mentioned at the outreach meetings nationwide, implicitly suggesting he is the only democratic and progressive leader in the government and Zanu-PF.
“The only person mentioned in introduction to the meetings is Moyo. Not even Mugabe is mentioned or given credit that he sanctioned the project,” a source said. “The perception is therefore now that Impi is a marketing tool for Moyo and a political springboard for him ahead of [the elective] congress. This is why he has come under attack.”
The Mujuru faction
Even though Mugabe and Moyo have buried the hatchet – at least for now – following last week’s meeting in the aftermath of the verbal assaults on the minister, Mujuru’s allies are still privately baying for his blood.
The Mujuru faction also views Impi as a project designed to put editors across the media sector in Moyo’s pocket by “buying” them with $300 allowances each for each day of field work they undertake. Mujuru’s office did not respond to questions.
There is also a pervasive feeling in Zanu-PF that Moyo is using the state media to attack his internal rivals. This led to clashes during the party’s politburo meeting two weeks ago, insiders say.
During Moyo’s anticorruption crusade in the first few months of the year, Mujuru had a public showdown with him, accusing the minister of using the media to attack his opponents while destroying Zanu-PF from within, a charge repeated by Mugabe two weeks ago.
Moyo has been accused of using the media to attack Zanu-PF bigwigs such as Didymus Mutasa, Rugare Gumbo, Mugabe confidant Gideon Gono and Mujuru. Mutasa was last year described as a “dwarf in giant robes” by the state-controlled daily the Herald, something previously unheard of, given Zanu-PF’s iron grip on the state media.
When Mugabe complained in April that Gono had been put on Moyo’s blacklist of those who should not be covered by the state media, the minister retorted: “They say some people are on the blacklist and the blacklist comes from the ministry. Why should we have a blacklist as if it’s a credit facility?”?
Moyo has also in recent months clashed with Mujuru over corruption issues, with Indigenisation Minister Francis Nhema on the empowerment policy, with police commissioner General Augustine Chihuri over the banning of a journalists’ march on World Press Day, and with Zanu-PF Mashonaland West chairperson Temba Mliswa on his controversial business deal with tycoon Billy Rautenbach.
Moyo could not be reached for comment.