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Zimbabwe Media Commission Controversially Engages 'Media Hangman' Mahoso

Zimbabwean media stakeholders were anxious former MIC Chairman Mahoso should have no role in the new Media Commission due to his record of shutting down publications that criticized President Robert Mugabe's government

Appointed in February, the Zimbabwe Media Commission has run into its first major controversy with donors reported to holding back from channeling funds to body because it has engaged former Media and Information Commission Chairman Tafataona Mahoso as its chief executive along with the staff of the predecessor organization.

When the commission was being set up, media stakeholders were anxious that Mahoso should not have any role in it due to his record of shutting down publications which criticized the previous government of President Robert Mugabe. Some have called Mahoso a "media hangman" for closing the Daily News in 2003, among others.

But it emerged in recent days that the Media Commission engaged Mahoso as chief executive, and took on the staff of the Media and Information Commission to support the members of the fledgling commission.

As chief executive, Mahoso will manage the Media Commission’s secretariat and will be in charge of processing the registration and license applications submitted by journalists and media houses.

The Web site of the Voice of the People, a radio broadcaster technically supported by Radio Netherlands, quoted a commission member speaking on condition of anonymity as saying that some donors "have clearly expressed their displeasure" at the presence of Mahoso in the new commission. "We have had a number of meetings with some of them who are saying they have no confidence in the ZMC, especially in the presence of Mahoso."

The unnamed commissioner said engaging Mahoso was a necessary compromise.

The commission has also been criticized because it has yet to issue a single newspaper license, which some sources said is due to a lack of operating funds. Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai told journalists on Sunday that he will soon summon commission members to ascertain why they have not issued any newspaper licenses.

The commission last week put off a workshop focusing on the newspaper licensing process until later this month, in part due to a lack of funding as the Finance Ministry has yet to provide a promised US$47,000.

But the Standard weekly newspaper reported divisions in the commission over proposals to bring in Information Minister Webster Shamu, Information Ministry Permanent Secretary George Charamba and Attorney General Johannes Tomana as facilitators or information resources for participants.

Media Commissioner Miriam Sibanda told VOA Studio 7 reporter Jonga Kandemiiri that the panel is still waiting for the government to allocate funds so that the commission can operate properly, and in the meantime has been obliged to rely upon the secretariat of the predecessor commission, including Mahoso, to fulfill its mandate.

The Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe said journalists prefer self-regulation instead of compliance with oppressive media laws like the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act through the Media Commission.

Voluntary Media Council Acting Executive Director Abigail Gamanya told VOA Studio 7 reporter Sandra Nyaira that as Zimbabwe media has long been repressed by official bodies, it should start regulating itself.