Some independent journalists say they feel threatened following weekend statements by President Robert Mugabe’s spokesman and Information Secretary George Charamba showing he intends to introduce tougher media laws targeting the private media.
Charamba charged at the independent media in the state-controlled Sunday Mail saying the “private media has become an appendage of the opposition wishing ill of the ruling party”.
“If you are in the media and you choose to leave the media desk to become an extension of the publicity department of a political party we treat you as a politician," he said.
“And please don’t cry wolf. Don’t feel unfairly treated when the hammer descends on you because wada mabrickbats yet you are staying in a glass house.”
Charamba continued: "Media freedom, press freedom is not an absolute right and we all know that freedom has to be earned. You can’t cry press freedom against the evidence of excesses. In any case when you do so where do you go for recourse?
“The same legislators who you have abused from day one to the last day are the same people giving you the law. So where do you go for remedy? KumaBritish and Americans?”
Charamba’s comments come barely a month after Mr. Mugabe also threatened to tighten the country’s media laws saying the standard of journalism has deteriorated in the country raising the need for the government to take measures.
The threats have irked the independent media scribes with media watchdog Misa-Zimbabwe issuing a strongly-worded response against Charamba’s statement and intentions.
Misa-Zimbabwe dismissed Charamba’s remarks as “ill-advised and smacking of intentions to stall and scuttle the outstanding alignment of the country’s media laws with the constitutional provisions that explicitly guarantee media freedom.”
“In this digital information age, no amount of undemocratic legislative control will refract the reality on the ground. Nor will it stop unflattering information about Zanu PF, government and indeed any other political parties, filtering into the public domain,” the media watchdog wrote.
In another report, Misa-Zimbabwe accused Charamba of attempting to embargo the report of the findings of the Information and Media Panel of Inquiry (IMPI) that went around the country soliciting people's views on the Zimbabwean media.
The IMPI finished its work some seven months ago. Charamba allegedly warned journalists not to discuss the contents of the report despite the report being launched at a function in the capital.
“The event was attended not only by members of the panel, but by close to 100 stakeholders from various sectors including civil society and representatives of various media houses who thereafter reported on the event and contents of the report," MISA-Zimbabwe says in a statement.
"Besides the launch, the report has been widely distributed to various stakeholders.”
An independent journalist, Kholwani Nyathi, says Charamba’s threats are worrying.
“Such threats coming from a top government official are worrying,” he said.