Unbalanced criticism of ZBC exposes weaknesses in the Constitution

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By Dr Tafataona Mahoso

CRITICISM of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC)’s coverage of the 2018 harmonised elections by opposition parties and by foreign observers tended to expose serious flaws in Zimbabwe’s Constitution together with clearly biased readings of the same.
First, there was failure to acknowledge that Section 61 of the Constitution is both flawed and contradictory.
For example, Section 61 (4) (a) to (c) reads as follows:
“All state-owned media of communication must –
(a) be free to determine independently the editorial content of
their broadcasts or communica- tions;
(b) be impartial; and
(c) afford fair opportunity for pres entation of divergent views and dissenting opinions.”
But 61 (5) (a) to (d) reads as follows:
“Freedom of expression and freedom of media exclude –
(a) incitement to violence;
(b) advocacy of hatred or hate speech;
(c) malicious injury to a person’s reputation or dignity; or
(d) malicious or unwarranted
breach of a person’s right to pri- vacy.”
The drafters here failed to relate Sub-Section (5) to Sub-Section (4), to the extent that by singling out only state-owned broadcast media as being required to be fair, balanced and impartial, the Constitution implies that media that are not state-owned should be free to incite people, to injure reputations and to engage in unwarranted breaches of privacy.
What is worse, during an election, if not at all times, the entire media sector constitute one electoral environment.
This means the biases, lies, exaggerations and provocations allowed in the non-state press will directly provoke those running the so-called state-owned media to try to counter the former, thereby guaranteeing in practice the perpetuation of gross media and social polarisation.
Moreover, criticism of the ZBC during the 2018 harmonised elections was grossly biased precisely because it was restricted to only parts of Section 61 of the Constitution, thereby ignoring even more important provisions of the same Constitution which the ZBC was trying to uphold at the very same time.
I was in the Media Thematic Committee of the Parliamentary Select Committee on the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment Number 20 of 2013, now known as the Constitution of Zimbabwe. Throughout our participation in COPAC and using the ZTV current affairs programmes ‘Zvavanhu’ and ‘African Pride’, the late Dr Vimbai Gukwe Chivaura and I struggled to point out weaknesses in the then draft Constitution which have remained imbedded therein to this day.
Selective criticism of ZBC during the 2018 harmonised elections exposed those weaknesses.
Almost all criticism ignored the wide use of Zimbabwean languages other than English as a democratic practice and as a way of guaranteeing wide access to information.
Yet Section 6 (3) of the very same Constitution provides as follows:
“The state and all institutions and agencies of Government at every level must —
(a) ensure that all officially recognised
languages are treated equitably;
and
(b) take into account the language preferences of people affected by Government measures and communications.”
Of all the media in Zimbabwe, only ZBC can be said to be taking this language provision seriously.
What is shameful about the biased criticism of the ZBC is failure of critics at least to acknowledge that the nosiest among media houses and platforms are producing no more than minority sheets written in English and restricted to a very short and narrow stretch of the highway.
They cannot claim to be inclusive or democratic in any way in relation to where the people of Zimbabwe are.
Even more astounding is the silence on the meaning of Section 16 of the same Constitution which says:
“The State and all institutions and agencies of Government at every level must promote and preserve cultural values and practices which enhance
the dignity, well-being and equality of Zimbabweans.
The State and all institutions and agencies of Government at every level, and all Zimbabwean citizens, must endeavour to preserve and protect Zimbabwe’s heritage.
The State and all institutions and agencies of Government at every level must take measures to ensure due respect for the dignity of traditional institutions.”
Contrary to these provisions, opposition parties and foreign election observers sympathetic to them attacked the institution of African chiefs and their role in the majority communities of Zimbabwe.
The ZBC’s respectful coverage of this institution was also misconstrued as part of its bias against opposition parties without any genuine efforts being made to even understand the culture within which chiefs make sense in Zimbabwean society.
Overall, the worst aspect of the criticism of state-owned and state-related media during the 2018 harmonised elections was failure to realise that in most normal and self-respecting nations, media policy must speak to culture policy.
The media have to be part of culture or they remain a foreign imposition.
That is why the ethical division between so-called private and state-owned media is clearly preposterous and destructive.
It guarantees perpetual media polarisation, which is one way of worsening social and political polarisation.
Indeed, it should not escape any Zimbabwean that the two nationalist movements which merged as the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU PF) were called the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) and the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU).
All this leads to the question: Why were all these enshrined and grand aspirations not enough?
Why are there still many frustrated calls for ‘unity’ today?
In Class and Nation, Historically and in the Current Crisis, the late pan-Africanist scholar Samir Amin observed that: “The African people wanted revolution to overthrow and overcome their historical economic subjugation and exploitation; the colonised African nation wanted liberation and not just political independence, against imperialism, settlerism and neo-colonialism; while the postcolonial state wanted sovereignty and autonomy against imperialism which tended to foster and perpetuate ‘failed states’ in order to justify endless interventions.”
In other words, the problem of elusive national unity has got to be broken down to its components.
It cannot be resolved by merely issuing generalised calls for unity and patriotism.
Therefore, during celebrations of Heroes Day, we are reminded to return to the prototype and practices of national unity bequeathed to us by the freedom fighters we now call war veterans and war heroes.
The African circle (dariro) is a revolutionary structure.
The revolutionary and developmental role and meaning of this African structure is best demonstrated through the pungwe because the pungwe makes possible Chimurenga as revolution; by uniting those who were forced to leave Zimbabwe to seek weapons and training outside before coming back to join those who stayed put and fought the colonial regime from within.
The Rhodesian ‘internal settlement’ adopted in 1978-79 was a strategy directed against this circle, this pungwe.
The internal settlement was a strategy to create a barrier between those Africans who remained inside Rhodesia throughout the liberation war period on one hand from those who volunteered to go into temporary exile, to seek military training, to obtain weapons for guerilla warfare and to come back home, on the other hand.
The pungwe as a structure accommodated and united both groups in the liberated zones of Zimbabwe.
In this respect, the African circle as pungwe represents the following features of the African revolution:
– Reconstructed and revolutionary African memory as celebrated in the song:
“Mauya, mauya, comrade
Zvamauya tongai Zimbabwe.
Mauya, mauya, comrade
Zvamauya hamuchadzoke.
Mauya, mauya, comrade
Zvamauya torai ivhu.”
– The prototype of a future African economy representing not only efforts at balanced development but also comprehensive multi-sectoral inclusiveness. Samir observes: “In the colonial and neo-colonial economy Africans are a majority residing and toiling inside a minority economy inherited from settlers.
In the colonial and neo-colonial economy, development is highly skewed, with many potential sectors or resources ignored, suppressed or untapped because they do not serve the exclusive or selective interests of the elites.
The cardinal sin of imperialism and colonialism was to use the state and the land mainly for the purpose of dividing the people, keeping them divided, for the purpose of entrenching and enriching a minority.
Minority rule meant use of state, national resources and land to divide the people.
The pungwe built a prototype of balanced inclusivity because the freedom fighters could not afford to ignore or leave out any sector or department.
For the survival and triumph of the liberated zone, all sectors or departments had to be recognised and included in the review process of the nightly pungwe: those who fetched, carried and protected weapons; those who carried out research and reconnaissance; those who grew, prepared, protected and served food against the scorched-earth policies of the colonial regime; those who sourced medicines and treated the sick and wounded; those who gathered intelligence and reviewed the distorted news bulletins of the colonial state and its foreign imperialist backers in order to forecast what the enemy might do next; those who took care of the children; and those responsible for conscientisation and the maintenance of high morale against the overwhelming colonial state machinery.
All these were given opportunities to report at the pungwe for the survival and triumph of the whole movement, the nation mobilised.
– The unbroken faith in the unity of Africa, beckoning those who left to come back, those who were forced to leave through slavery’s Middle Passage and apartheid’s Group Areas Act and those who stayed put, to come back together and build the new Africa.
– The enlarged and enlarging curriculum of contemporary, revolutionary and indigenous African knowledge, teaching those values, stories, concepts, facts and practices which Apartheid’s Bantu Education Act and Rhodesia’s Native Education Act would not allow in colonial schools.
– The African civilisational curriculum which enables Africans from specialised and specialist disciplines to speak to one another, to understand one another and to pursue co-ordinated and mutually congruent development objectives.
– The enlarged and enlarging African learning structure mediating between external information and technology flows and internal flows in order to make possible the assessment, adaptation and adoption of what is good for home use.
– The multi-generational ‘family’ encompassing parents, siblings, peers, mentors, elders and ancestors as one circuit.”
The pungwe therefore represented an all-inclusive community effort to employ all sectors, all available resources, to unite the people against settlerism and imperialism.
The heritage of the pungwe therefore compels us to ask ourselves the following questions:
– Are the majority of the people full players in a majority economy or still being treated as observers and by-standers in a minority economy? In other words, is the economy being used to unite or divide people?
– Are all sectors of the economy being developed? Are they articulated into one national whole?
– Is the land being used to unite the people?
the people?
– Is media development integrated with cultural development?
– Is the media being used to serve and unite all the people?
If these things are not being done, then our talk of unity remains only rhetorical.
The pungwe could never afford to remain a merely rhetorical platform. It was the African revolution in practice and at a micro-level.
In this regard, Sub-Section 4 of Section 61 of the Constitution should be treated as a retrogressive provision which adds to the polarisation of our society by promoting media discrimination and polarisation along the fictitious line of ‘public’ versus ‘private’, as if in a national election there is any part of that exercise which is of no public consequence.
In fact, the most shocking lies about public life in Zimbabwe are spread by outlets claiming to be merely ‘private’.

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