Media freedom through the microscope

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THE latest media scenario in Zimbabwe has been a victim of too much hyperbole about democracy and freedom of communication, but a critical analysis gives a serious side of an anomaly that needs to be urgently addressed, especially where the question of national development is concerned. It also begs the question of the motives being set in motion by both local and foreign agenda setters who want Zimbabwe to remain under global scrutiny for as long as time moves. It is from the above assessment that the one question that continuously confronts my mind, that is, what really is press freedom and what does it entail? In Zimbabwe, the issue has actually become a dominant feature of our political set-up as we have more often than not heard some in our midst deafeningly clamouring for media freedom as part of reforms they say will bring about democracy. This is not a problem when one considers that any society, community or nation requires many and alternative voices to help them shape their lives and make informed and far-reaching decisions that play a part in the general development of their countries. The media comes in handy in that regard and the fact that it has now acquired the tag of the Fourth Estate means it is the fourth most powerful organ in any country. However, what has the media, as the Fourth Estate, achieved so far in nation building especially when the country is currently entangled in a serious diplomatic rift with the outside world. What role does the media play in such a situation? Does it plunder the country or vehemently come to its defence? I believe that media freedom should be about creating space for alternative voices to be heard and to discuss issues and ideas so that national development can be given the platform to prosper rather than having a situation where the media is used to cause instability and to attack the persons and personalities of leaderships. It should be promoting debate on issues that form the basis for the country to achieve economic, political and even social development. In Zimbabwe, the media can come in handy in promoting and fostering unity between and among people of this country so that we can achieve the much needed development. Unfortunately, that has not been the case as some media outlets have become willing tools of our enemies as they are being used to smuggle into the country selfish agendas of those who are opposed to the systems of governance and institutions that make this country what it is and should be. The unfortunate part is that they are pandering to the whims of these hostile elements under the guise of media freedom which they claim will bring about democracy to Zimbabwe. But in his presentation titled: “Cultural imperialism in the late 20th century”, James Petras talks of how the West uses the media to fracture or completely destroy the bond of unity and national interest under the guise of media freedom when he says: “United States cultural imperialism has two major goals, one economic and the other political: to capture markets for its cultural commodities and to shape hegemony by shaping popular consciousness.” We saw this in Zimbabwe during the days of the land reform programme in 2000 when the private media partnered with their foreign counterparts to dismiss this noble initiative as “political madness”, in a bizarrely outrageous bid to reshape the popular consciousness of land security and ownership by the locals. The land reform was astonishingly given all sorts of derogatory and provoking epitaphs spanning from “land invasion, land grab, violent and land theft” among others by the same unrepentant lethal destruction in local and international media combination. Equally disturbing and disappointing is the same stance that has been adopted by the same combination on the Indigenous and Economic Empowerment Programme which they have taken turns to blast it as a chaotic economic policy which will chase away investors. Which investors? The same ones that have shunned Zimbabwe for the past decade? Going by Petras’ observation, it is abundantly clear that the popular belief among the private media in Zimbabwe and their Western counterparts that the land reform programme destroyed this country’s economy and that the indigenisation programme is a creation of the media to make Zimbabweans feel inferior by making them throw away their destiny through losing focus of their popular consciousness which is of empowerment and ownership. The so-called private media has been designed to do just that hence the decadelong push for more Western propaganda tools. Petras says of this: “In the political sphere, cultural imperialism plays an important role from dissociating people from their cultural roots and traditions of solidarity, replacing them with media created needs with every publicity campaign. “The political effect is to alienate people from traditional class and community bonds of unity and tolerance as advocated for by nationalists and patriots, atomising and separating individuals from each other through sanctions and Western backed propaganda.” Therefore and not surprising for Zimbabweans, the private media, using media freedom and democracy as a shield, will seek to dissociate people from nationalists and patriots and unity through a sustained onslaught that will be heavily and adequately funded by the West. So the issue of ownership control and patterns is a key feature and factor in this media reform agenda. European capitalistic views which will be pursued under the tag of “change” will be dominated by black faces, but the content will not be in any way ‘black’ or ‘local’, but international. Such media, as the private media are doing in Zimbabwe, largely turns a blind eye on the real and underlying causes of economic struggles that local people are fighting on a daily basis. As such the black majority’s fight to redress colonial imbalances is seen as detrimental to economic development and as ‘undemocratic’, while sanctions which are hurting the ordinary people are said to be ‘targeted.’ This hypocrisy and blind attention to the regime they support is an ugly manifestation of the West’s arrogance towards the sad, sorry and deplorable situation of Zimbabweans. While it is an undisputed and poignantly timely fact that the country needs other newspapers which means a lot of variety but not necessarily equally, the tragedy that we are likely to face as a country is that some of these publications will be like genetically modified products which will not serve long-term development goals, but ones which will in the longrun become a danger unto themselves. They may make a lot of noise, most of which is not desirable. Let those with ears listen.

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