WASHINGTON, DC, Tanonoka Whande
Newly-appointed special advisor in information, Christopher Mutsvangwa, has assured Zimbabwe’s journalists that he will be bringing a new approach to their work, including revising controversial laws such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), which have stifled the country’s media environment.
He was initially appointed Minister of Information, but had to be re-assigned to the post of special advisor because he is not a Member of Parliament, and President Emmerson Mnangagwa had exceeded his quota of five ministers who are not MPs.
“I will look at the constitution, pick out some parts and throw them out of the window,” Mutsvangwa said, as he castigated former Information Minister Jonathan Moyo, who crafted the laws. “The madness of Jonathan (Moyo) to think that he can think for the whole country of 14-million, I don’t like that.”
Mutsvangwa, who chairs the powerful Zimbabwe National Liberators War Veterans Association (ZNLWA), boasts of being a journalist himself and says he appreciates the difficulties of being a journalist in Zimbabwe. “Journalists now have one of their own at the helm, dating back from the time of the war of liberation until I went to the ZBC (Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.), myself I am also a journalist,” said Mutsvangwa. “When I am with journalists, I feel like I’m in the same club,” he stressed.
Over the years, various media watchdog groups have given Zimbabwe low ratings, citing its repressive media environment. Freedom House has rated Zimbabwe “partly free,” in its 2017 report, while Reporters Without Borders ranked Zimbabwe 128 of the 180 evaluated for their media freedoms, and citied “the many cases of journalists being harassed, arrested, convicted or physically attacked during a wave protests in 2016,” as the part of the reason for the low ranking.
The new advisor says he wants to improve the media landscape for Zimbabwe’s journalists, and plans to meet with media bodies as soon as he’s sworn in, so he can start the process of freeing up the media space.
“I will consult with them, to hear their thoughts about how best they can do their jobs. But more importantly I want the environment in which journalists to work to be a happy one,” Mutsvangwa said, adding that he wants journalists to be respected and paid accordingly for their work.
Asked if he can really change the environment for journalists, Mutsvangwa assured journalists that he’s in their corner. “I know your wishes to carry out your duties, and again I want you to have an atmosphere of stability like that of other developed countries,” he said. “I want that all the technology that is out there, to be available so that you can do your jobs well.”
As for the country’s citizens, Mutsvangwa said they too should have the right to access news of any kind as they choose. “The first think I want to address is citizens’ ability to hear news, gather news and read news freely without any interference or deliberate misinterpretation of what has been written, including what is on social media,” he said. – VOA