What’s the fuss about?


Nathan Shamuyarira, the ZANU-PF secretary for information, was a renowned journalist in the 1960s. He was the editor-in-chief of the Daily News. The paper was the voice of the black oppressed and was banned in 1964 soon after the ban of the black political parties, ZAPU and ZANU.

Chen Chimutengwende, his deputy has also been a practising journalist and a trainer. At one time there was even a joke that whenever someone looking young said he or she was a journalist, his wife would assume he or she was a product of her husband.

But, the phobia they have about controlling the media, especially Chen Chen, as he is also popularly known, is just astounding.

With the control the state has over the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation and Zimbabwe Newspapers, one would have thought that the ruling ZANU-PF had nothing to worry about.

The ZBC has the sole right to broadcast news in the country with its competition coming only from channels like the British Broadcasting Corporation, Cable News Network and South African channels such as Channel Africa.

But apart from radio channels, only those who can afford digital satellite television can afford BBC television and CNN. Now that the agents require subscriptions to be paid in foreign currency, which is very scarce, this is a privilege only the elite, most whom do not care a hot about politics anyway as long as it does not affect their personal lives, will be able to afford .

While there is competition from Joy Television, only in Harare, the channel does not broadcast local news.

In the print media, no one beats Zimpapers. The Herald has the biggest circulation in the country with its sister paper, The Chronicle, also having a big circulation especially in the western and southern parts of the country.

Adding the two Sunday papers, The Sunday Mail and The Sunday News, the ruling party is home and dry.

While there is now competition from The Daily News, this is still very minimal. And with the problems the paper was experiencing, it must have lost some sales as people were no longer certain about its continued existence.

It may build up but it is very difficult to change people’s reading habits. Even then, The Daily News is competing against two papers, whose circulation is one of the highest in the region.

In the Sunday papers league, Zimpapers is virtually unopposed because the circulation of The Standard, though improving, is nothing to talk about. Perhaps, The Sunday Express could change the tempo when it finally hits the streets.

This means that the independent press the ruling party is so worried about is mostly the weekly press, The Financial Gazette, the Zimbabwe Independent and The Mirror.

Their combined circulations are nothing compared to the circulations of newspapers belonging to Zimpapers. Besides, the fact that they are weekly also makes them vulnerable to the dailies which can follow up and discredit their stories for a full six days before they are published.

And this has been exploited before. A story in The Financial Gazette is shot down the same day on the ZBC and the following day in the print media.

Besides, the ruling party has its own publications, The People’s Voice a weekly and the Zimbabwe News a monthly. So the question is: what is the fuss all about?

The only answer is that when you have been in power too long and you are out of touch with the people, everyone becomes an enemy.

You see shadows everywhere. Perhaps this is what is bothering the ruling party. But what must be borne in mind is that whatever controls you put; you cannot stifle the opinions of the people.

Besides, Zimbabwe has one of the most selective, discerning readers. They know when to read between the lines, which publications to trust and which to discard. If everything else fails, they resort to the Bush-Telegraph. Nothing beats that.


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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


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