Biti & Chamisa criticized for ‘threatening’ to sue paper

Tendai Biti and Nelson Chamisa, have been criticized for threatening to sue The Zimbabwe Independent

By Violet Gonda
30 January 2013

Two senior MDC-T officials, Tendai Biti and Nelson Chamisa, have been criticized by the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ) for allegedly making threats to sue the Zimbabwe Independent, over a story it published claiming the two were involved in a serious ‘bust-up’ last week.

The Zimbabwe Independent newspaper claimed Biti, who is the party’s secretary-general, ‘fiercely clashed’ with Chamisa, the organizing secretary, at a standing committee meeting over primary election application forms. MPs Tabitha Khumalo and Albert Mhlanga also reportedly exchanged blows as intra-party fighting rages on.

The paper claimed: “The ministers’ fight” was seen as part of a wider MDC-T factional and succession battle, as Biti and Chamisa are allegedly ensconced in two warring camps.”

But the MDC-T denied the report as false saying it was “clearly written with the evil intentions of causing mayhem, discontent, and despondency within the MDC family,” ahead of elections.

Biti and Chamisa also put up a united front at a press conference in Harare on Tuesday, dismissing the newspaper’s story as ‘hurtful and ‘fiction’.

Chamisa is quoted as saying the party had instructed its lawyers to take measures against the journalist who wrote the story and the publication itself.

VMCZ chairman Alec Muchadehama said: “While it remains the legal right of these two leaders of the MDC-T to do so, it is unfortunate that they have joined the undemocratic tendency by politicians and influential people in Zimbabwean society to issue veiled threats against the media.

“It is a tendency that has in general led to the arrests of many media professionals for merely doing their work in the public interest. It is also a habit that has regrettably led to an unfortunate and repressive but broad culture of criminalizing freedom of expression and media freedom in Zimbabwe.”

Chamisa disagreed with the VMCZ statement saying there had to be a retraction of a ‘false story’ that was attributed to ‘unknown sources’.

He told SW Radio Africa: “What we want is a retraction, given the same prominence, and if that fails we also have rights in as much as we respect the rights of those people who wrote those malicious statements. So we should not look at rights from one side.”

Chamisa denied threatening the media, saying they merely made a ‘polite request’.

The minister said his party was also fighting for democracy and balanced unbiased reporting: “A certain wrong was committed against us and we feel that as people who fight for democracy justice is supposed to be on both sides.

“In as much as we respect the individual rights of anybody to write about anybody they should not write fiction,” Chamisa added.

The Zimbabwe Independent editor-in-chief, Vincent Kahiya, refused to comment saying: “I will only comment if I see a formal letter from the MDC wanting us to either retract or suing us.”

When asked if the paper still stands by its story, Kahiya responded by reiterating that his paper will wait for an official document from the MDC indicating their intention to sue “and when we see those papers we will make an appropriate reaction.”

Journalists at the Zimbabwe Independent, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said both Biti and Chamisa had called the newspaper and threatened to sue if there was no retraction. The journalists said they stood by their story.

Muchadehama deplored threats against the media and said there are mechanisms through which policy makers or public figures can seek fair redress from media houses, if they feel aggrieved by a story, such as seeking a right of reply from the media organization and also pursuing the matter with the Media Complaints Committee of the VMCZ . He said the latter would be at “no legal cost to themselves nor with the threat of the arrest or cumbersome lawsuits of media professionals.”

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe dropped 16 places to number 133 out of 179 countries on the World Press Freedom Index report released by the France-based Reporters Without Borders. Zimbabwe, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo and Swaziland are the only countries from Southern Africa who are below 130.

Activist Mike Davies said: “The press freedom index does not take into account the quality of reporting. We need a ‘freedom from bad journalism index’, for that and I am sure Zimbabwe would be in the lower third there as well.”

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9 Responsesto “Biti & Chamisa criticized for ‘threatening’ to sue paper”

  1. wilbert_mukori says:

    What is MDC trying to prove, that they agree 100% in 100% of the time in 100% of the issues? There is nothing wrong with disagreements, indeed a health democracy demands and thrives on passionate debate.

    A statement denying the two had clashed would have sufficed. Sueing the newspaper is going over-board.

    MDC’s failure to implement media reforms, so that there was a truly vibrant free and independent media and freedom of expression was enjoyed by all, has been a great disappointment. At first sight it seemed it was because the party did not appreciate what a free media is; given the sum total of what Tsvangirai called media reform was for the Zanu PF controlled media to stop calling him a puppet. But now it seems the party has a deep rooted mistrust of independent and critical voices.

    Independent Zimbabwean journalists have lived all their lives with the threat of law suit, arrest and imprisonment hanging over their heads like the sword over Damocles head. It is clear MDC has learnt many of Zanu PF’s dirty tricks and are putting some of them into practice already!

    • Chimbwidos Warvets says:

      You are now beginning to see a bit of light Wilbert. These guys tell us they want an independent media/press that reports ‘issues’ in Zimbabwe as they are and yet they now want to muzzle the press simply because it has reported on matters they do not want to hear. I has been widely reported that Biti, who is the party’s secretary-general, ‘fiercely clashed’ with Chamisa, the organizing secretary, at a standing committee meeting over primary election application forms. And it has been known for a long time that these two guys do not see eye to eye as each of them believes he is better than the other. We know it for a fact. This behavior in my view is a form of desperate denial.
      What a bunch of hypocrites. They should let the independent report without being stifled, muzzled and without fear they could be taken to task by Chamisa and Biti of the MDC-T.

      • Yepec says:

        What is it that you are really saying in your comment? In other words, are you saying that the Independent Newspaper is free to write anything it wants on Biti and Chamisa because they are public figures?

        Were they ever involved in whatever the paper is alleging about them and who was its source? Without talking about the paper’s motives, did it create the story on its own? If it is permitted to write anything it wants on public figures, what could stop it from being a kingmaker on their cereers?

        Newspapers are information carriers and as such whatever they write should be factual not opinions or hearsay, hence, “sources” are very important to them. Some even go on to remind the readers that their mottoes/policies in their line of business is to report without “fear or favour”. What is the Independent Newspaper’s policy in this “threatening to sue paper” case, in which you are saying they are being muzzled ?

        • Chimbwidos Warvets says:

          I am afraid that I stand by what I said which is true. You are taking a partisan stance on a very important issue that affects the entire nation. We need an independent press that operates without fear and favor and this is precisely what it has done but your MDC officials want to hear what they want to hear. You can not have it both ways guys. It is that straightforward, Yepec.

      • wilbert_mukori says:

        Mugabe and Zanu PF have done worse things, why have you said nothing then if you really believe in a free media?

      • denny says:

        But an independent media should report the truth,so what is wrong in suing a paper for not reporting the truth.Who told you that these two guys don’t see face to face.?Its another hear say.Can you prove that?

  2. malcomX says:

    I know this guy from Zimbabwe Independent Newspaper called Matshazi always write faslehood about MDC.
    Ihave a question for Muchadehama. So it is democratic to write falsehood about indivuals and is undemocratic for those individual to take action against the writer especially when the writer has no intention of retracting the story? It has to work both ways. If democracy means writing falsehood and the people affected have to be silent then democracy is wrong. I believe it is the democratic right for individual affect to take whatever action necessary to address the issue.
    If not, we will end up having a very powerful media like that of Murdock’s News International and Fox News.

  3. jj says:

    these journalists think they can get away with writing lies. if indeed the journalist is sued let him just prove his case. why do you want to think that sueing a journalist
    threatens media freedom?

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