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No Sign of Changes as Zimbabwe Information Minister Defies Media Reform Deadline

Zimbabwe Information Minister Webster Shamu
Zimbabwe Information Minister Webster Shamu

Media reforms remain a distant dream as Information Minister Webster Shamu refuses to implement changes Prime Minister Tsvangirai says he agreed on with President Mugabe recently

The three-week deadline reportedly given to Information Minister Webster Shamu by the unity government principals to implement media reforms is set to expire next week with no sign of movement from the ZANU-PF minister.

Last month Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai told the media he had agreed with President Robert Mugabe and deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara that Shamu should announce changes to important media boards, among them the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe, which Tsvangirai's MDC formation says was not properly constituted.

President Mugabe’s spokesperson George Charamba immediately denied Mr. Tsvangirai’s statement. But the MDC leader maintained he had agreed with Mr. Mugabe that urgent media reforms be implemented.

ZANU-PF is pushing for elections this year but Mr. Tsvangirai’s MDC has repeatedly said it will not participate in elections without broad electoral, media and other reforms.

Shamu refused to speak with the VOA but his deputy, Murisi Zwizwai, of the Tsvangirai-led MDC, told Violet Gonda that a deadline was indeed set by the Principals. He accuses Shamu of undermining the shaky unity government.

“It could be a question of conflict of interest as you are aware that Minister Shamu also wears a political hat as the commissar of ZANU-PF so he could be doing all these frustrations in order to try and perpetuate his party into power in the forthcoming elections,” said Zwizwai.

The Zimbabwe chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa said Shamu’s actions show where the real power resides within the coalition government.

Director Nhlanhla Ngwenya said the media reforms the MDC is calling for are ‘superficial’ and are not sustainable, especially as they involve merely changing figure-heads on media boards, and not also pushing for the repeal of draconian media laws.

Ngwenya said, for example, simply reconstituting the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation board will not solve the problems at the institution. He says a comprehensive policy framework is needed to shield the ZBC from manipulation by politicians.

“As long as the media reforms are tied to a single ministry nothing will move because we know the position of that ministry and its ideology vis-à-vis media policy, democracy and governance,” said Ngwenya.