The Daily News saga, which has been dragging on for five months, clearly demonstrates how true the old saying: When two elephants fight it is the grass that suffers, is. While the government and Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe, publishers of the Daily News and the Daily News on Sunday, are engaged in on-going court battles, reporters, technical staff and vendors are suffering.
For the government and ANZ the fight now appears to be a game. They seem to be more interested in who is scoring points than on the future of the paper and those who produce it.
Lawyers are making a killing. Several non-governmental media organisations have jumped onto the bandwagon. And because they are making money from the saga, they would rather see it continuing.
No one seems to be looking at the effect of the continuing fight on the average employee of ANZ. For starters, though junior staff is getting their monthly salaries, they did not get their 13th cheque. While one might argue that bonuses are not a right, they have de facto become so as they enable most people to pull through the festive period.
Junior staff could also have been short-changed because their bargaining power has been weakened. If they had been working full-time, they could be bargaining for better salaries by now. Right now management can argue that it is paying them for doing nothing.
While the onus seems to be on the directors of ANZ to get things right, perhaps by softening their hard line stance to get the paper back of track, the government is equally to blame.
The government has made its point. No one should operate outside the law. But why drag on the case? After all registration is an annual event. The ANZ blundered in 2003; why not let them have a good, legitimate start in 2004?
As things stand, the court battle could drag on for years. ANZ may have nothing to lose as, for all anyone knows, some non-governmental organisation may be paying their lawyers’ bills. Directors are gallivanting all over the world talking about their case.
The government has nothing to lose either. It does not have to pay lawyers as they are employed by the state. And, unlike ANZ, it is not losing any potential revenue.
Ironically, while the battle between the government and ANZ continues, there appears to be a conflict between the Daily News case and President Robert Mugabe’s new thrust.
When Mugabe reshuffled his cabinet on 10 February, he stated that his new cabinet was still a war cabinet. But the war was getting less and less political, that is vis-à-vis the British and vis-à-vis the Americans. “Those I think we have defeated now,” he said.
“It is now the internal war to fight the evils within our system, to fight corruption, to fight tendencies to amass wealth at the expense of the nation, to fight indiscipline, to fight crime.”
This is indeed a noble objective, especially in view of parliamentary elections to be held next year. But Mugabe needs the support of the people to achieve these goals. Mugabe needs a diversified, pluralistic media to keep his lieutenants and other high-ranking politicians in line.
According to William Borah: “Without an unfettered press, without liberty of speech, all of the outward forms and structures of free institutions are a sham, a pretense – the sheerest mockery. If the press is not free; if speech is not independent and untrammelled; if the mind is shackled or made impotent through fear, it makes no difference under what form of government you live, you are a subject and not a citizen.”
No matter how Jonathan Moyo rants. No matter how the Media and Information Commission argues, telling us 51 media organisations have registered with it, as long as the government continues to stifle the Daily News, people will continue to think it has something to hide.
The Daily News may have published unsubstantiated stories in the past, but the truth is that it is perceived to be more credible than the Herald and the Chronicle, even among ruling party officials.
Why should the government therefore not show its magnanimity in its efforts to turn things around by allowing the Daily News to publish?
Zimbabwe has some of the most discerning readers. They are not easily duped. If a paper is no longer serving their interests or giving them value for their money it dies a natural death.