Friday, September 11, 2009

(TALKZIMBABWE) Speech at launch of H-Metro newspaper

Speech at launch of H-Metro newspaper
Webster Shamu - Speech at launch of H-Metro newspaper
Fri, 11 Sep 2009 03:30:00 +0000

THE following is the full text of the speech delivered by the Minister of Media, Information and Publicity, Webster Shamu, at the the launch of H-Metro, a new title in the Zimbabwe Newspapers stable on September 4, 2009:

Full Text

I am delighted to be part of this happy gathering marking the launch of yet another product in the Zimpapers stable, Harare Metro/ H-Metro and of course the celebration of the fifth Anniversary of the Southern Times, itself a product of a joint venture company, NAMZIM, combining the vision of two sister Republics of Namibia and Zimbabwe in the information field.

Both events mark real growth in the information sector at a time of great challenges both for the sector and for our Southern African region.

We thus meet to celebrate defiant growth, one shaping itself under harsh circumstances and with little outside goodwill. Needless to say growth managed under harsh conditions hardens a plant for all weather and for all times. We expect no less from these two developments.

I have had occasion to look at dummies of H-Metro. From the editorial focus and the quality of journalism which the dummies promise, I have no doubt in my mind that H-Metro will be a winner. Zimpapers has identified a niche which this popular tabloid is set to occupy and, I am sure, set to dominate when competition eventually comes. It is a niche to do with the popular in our townships, encompassing the full gamut of popular activities (politics, social and cultural issues, sport, etc, etc), all treated for easy and light reading but from a position of hard facts, honesty and human sympathy.

The great temptation with this niche in the publishing industry is to push for sensation at the expense of truth, accuracy, fairness and balance.

Always remember that beneath the sleaze and sensation is a human being susceptible to hurt, injury and suffering. Yes, always remember that beneath those circulation statistics and healthy sales are lives that are either edified or ruined. Journalism cannot be about any sales, any stories, any slant, and still claim the status of a whole Fourth Estate counterbalancing the three other Estates which have to do with the way our society is organised and run.

Journalism – when all is said and done – is about serving our societies with vital information and values necessary to save and improve them. It cannot be a vehicle for profitable decadence and ruination of personalities. This is the balance which Zimpapers is now being called upon to establish and maintain, particularly given the niche it is now about to enter.

Elsewhere on the continent, newspaper enterprises in which governments have a stake have not done well. Not so in Zimbabwe where Zimpapers continues to rule the roost. As the minister responsible, I am very happy that this is so. I hope Zimpapers maintains its market leadership founded on commercial soundness and the need to serve all with information while defending the national interest.

My predecessors, starting with the founding Minister of Information of Independent Zimbabwe, Dr Nathan Shamuyarira, wisely kept Zimbabwe Newspapers a public company quoted on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange.

Through the dominant shareholding in a public quoted company whose core business is printing and publishing, Government sought the rigour of the market as a funding formulae. I stress this point because there is quite a disturbing misconception – politically self-serving in some respect – to suggest Zimpapers gets money from Government. It does not. It has never got money from Government since its transfer from the South African Argus Group following a take-over donation from the Federal Republic of Nigeria at Independence.

Quite the contrary, Zimpapers has given money to the State or its agencies by way of a dividend when the going is good. Let it be pronounced here that Zimpapers is not a State enterprise.

Let it be proclaimed here and now that Zimpapers is governed by rules of the Stock Exchange, never by checking institutions of government such as committees of Parliament. There is a whole Chinese Wall between Zimpapers and wholly State-owned media companies like Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, New Ziana, etc, etc/which run on public funds. While Government is the major shareholder, Zimpapers has an equally compelling obligation to many other shareholders.

This habit of relating to it as if it’s a parastatal, or as if it is a Government department whose behaviour must meet with popular approval is not just mistaken and unlawful, but seems measured to incapacitate and hurt Zimpapers ahead of competition we see gathering on the horizon. Let Zimpapers fail in the market through fair competition. Let it not be failed through unprofessional interference done in the name of legislative oversight.

That the State has a largest shareholding in Zimpapers does not justify undue pressure to it. What is more, why is it that the pressure is only concentrated on the publishing arm of Zimpapers, never in its other areas of activity, if the interest is sincere and balanced?

And why is that interest in the editorial side not extending to many other publishers in the country whose conduct should meet expectations of the Global Political Agreement? Are public hearings set for these publishers as well? Why this appearance of selective treatment? I hope those concerned will avoid such mistakes in future, if mistakes there have been. Equally, I hope arms of Parliament are also clear that their entry into Ministries is not through the backdoor or by stealth.

Often invitations to organs that are under given ministries are done behind ministry leadership who then only get informed either just before or well after the event. This does not make for a healthy working relationship. Committees of Parliament are not instruments for inquisitions or witch-hunt. Rather, they are mechanisms for improving management of public affairs and resources.

There is a way of doing this in a procedural way, without appearing to be encouraging insubordination, conflict, or confusion in Ministries and parastatals.

Since the launch of the Inclusive Government, I, as minister in charge of Media, Information and Publicity have been concerned at an incipient media outlook which appears to be solidifying in certain sections of the Inclusive Government.

There is an attempt to encourage a perception that the GPA is for the “public’’ media only, whatever is meant by that. To begin with, all media, regardless of ownership, are public. Publishing is one industry whose products are public by definition, and hence the tradition of placing the media under laws or values/ethics which come under public scrutiny.

Products of publishers fall under the domain of ‘mass communication’’, which is essentially a public role with clear public consequences. This is the basic understanding of media laws and regulations the whole world over.

In its search for settlement, harmony and stability, GPA addressed the areas of public communication to the extent that this area makes or breaks public political processes. It is very even-handed in its demands and expectations which apply to all media focusing in and on Zimbabwe.

The notion that the burden of meeting the expectations of GPA reside in that part of the media sector which falls under Government influence, is clearly mistaken if genuine, or mischievous if politically motivated. The requirement to refrain from hate language is a standard requirement for all media, for all publishers regardless of who owns them.

The requirement to respect facts is inherent to ethics of journalism; regardless of in whose favour an editorial policy is weighted. Yes, the call to support a nascent and fragile political experiment which is what the Inclusive Government is, is a call to all regardless of ownership.

But it is not an insurance against legitimate criticisms. It is not an invitation to abandon the defence of the National Interest which must be uppermost in every newsroom. Times shall come – assuming they have not already – when best support and defence of the Inclusive Government is not a supine posture, is not by being a chorister in a mindless hymn of unconditional praise of anything in the name of the Inclusive Government. No!

Support for the Inclusive Government does not mean condonation of all done under it or in its name. I hate to think that my role as Minister of Media, Information and Publicity is to beat back editors and journalists from obvious facts, and even more obvious questions, all in the name of fulfilling the GPA and protecting the Inclusive Government.

What is worse, I cannot be associated with a push to create space for the BBC and CNN here while at the same time denying the same to the Herald, the Independent, the Financial Gazette, The Standard etc, etc. The Zimbabwe story must be witnessed, written and reported on by Zimbabweans. That is our duty which we give to no other media. This habit of defending abridgement of media freedom in the name of GPA must stop.

Equally, what must also stop is the continuing situation where some parties in the GPA continue to aid and abet illegal, extraterritorial pirate broadcasts which violate our sovereignty in the name of media freedoms. The GPA the often quoted GPA – disallows this as gross external interference in the affairs of our country.

These stations – all of them sited in countries that have slapped Zimbabwe with sanctions – are a violation of the GPA.

To the extent that they persist well into the Inclusive Government, they amount to an outstanding matter which must be addressed by those who needed them, indeed created and legitimised them in the name of struggling for their own brand of democracy here.

That struggle has now been accommodated in the Inclusive Government, so why not do the right thing by stopping this horrible interference? To then make a case for a liberalisation of the airwaves under conditions of persistent and even enlarging challenge to Zimbabwe’s sovereignty, is to be grossly insincere. Let us examine our obligations squarely and fairly.

Last month the ministry, as part of its ongoing programme of reviewing media laws, practices and structures, cleared the Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ) of any legal impediments for eventual registration.

That action which derived from a Special Committee created by my predecessor at the behest of a High Court Ruling, does not amount to registration of ANZ so it resumes publishing within the law. That will have to be done elsewhere.

My ministry does not register publishers. Equally, my ministry will not condone the breaking of the law. This same position we have communicated to ZimInd, another publisher intent on joining the industry. We are for the growth of this vital sub-sector. We hope the current problems and issues of a legal nature deriving from an interim court judgment, will be resolved so the industry can grow.

We have in our midst guests from Namibia. I want to welcome them in a very special way. Not long ago, I was in Namibia and had wonderful discussions with my counterpart and his deputy. NAMZIM and its child, the Southern Times, expresses a determination by our two Governments to deepen and expand relations beyond historical and political foundations. The two sister countries are one on many matters. We need to validate this oneness in our small way.

But NAMZIM and the Southern Times is a correct reading of the world situation. In terms of the global management and flow of information, we in the South are information underdogs. We are the reported on, the objects of global news whose voices shall never be heard, shall never shape news and information.

This is why the story is always told at our expense, indeed at the expense of our nations. But there is a way out of this editorial entrapment, which is itself a manifestation of greater and wider political entrapment. The way out is through combinations. We must pool resources and efforts to found platforms from which to speak and proclaim our own stories, values and interests.

Thank God, technology now makes publishing placeless. We should exploit that technological reality to create formidable multinational, pan-African multimedia response which allows us to strike back at detractors. NAMZIM is only the beginning. The ultimate goal is to grow this small seed into a Southern African media project that balances information on the region.

We dare not fail in this project whose time has come. As co-operating ministers, we have undertaken to realise this dream by taking the project to other Sadc members. We are determined. All of you who are on the NAMZIM board and management must thus realise our two nations have reposed in you this hallowed vision.

Do not betray it.

It now gives me singular pleasure to launch this double barrelled celebration marking the launch of H-Metro and the fifth anniversary of the Southern Times.

I thank you.

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