By Tererai Karimakwenda
06 August, 2010
The Minister of Media, Information and Publicity, Webster Shamu, on Wednesday threatened to arrest any government ministers who disclose information on cabinet meetings and proceedings to the media, plus the journalists who use such information.
Minister Shamu reportedly said ministers were using confidential information from cabinet proceedings to “further their political agendas” and that some even “distort or misinterpret” the information in order to “promote their narrow party political interests”.
The announcement came after ministers reportedly discussed the issue last week in cabinet and agreed that leaks of such information were damaging to government.
But media analysts strongly disagree and have criticized the move as yet another attempt to silence the media, target the MDC and keep Zimbabweans in the dark about political activities.
Political science professor John Makumbe criticized the MDC ministers for going along with this decision, saying the directive by Shamu is aimed at victimizing them.
He said: “The MDC ministers have become sitting ducks really. And there will be no ZANU PF ministers arrested for leaking anything, not just to the Herald, but even to independent newspapers. They will be leaking only those stories that they want to go out into the public domain.”
Makumbe said the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) have so far been used to prosecute journalists. He said the government also uses the Miscellaneous Offenses Act - something they turn to when they cannot fit an allegation into any existing law.
But Shamu want to find additional ways to prosecute journalists and MDC ministers and is reported to have said: “As cabinet ministers we take an oath of office and if information is divulged then you should be answerable,” and “If any information is divulged, the official will be investigated and appropriate action taken against both the official and journalist.” Then he added that offenders would be violating the Official Secrets Act, a law that has not been used to prosecute any journalists since Independence in 1980.
This issue of leakages was discussed after local reports said that cabinet had agreed to stop ZBC from using the ZANU PF’s jingles that were being played every hour by the state broadcaster. ZANU PF officials accused MDC-T MPs of leaking the information to the press. The MDC responded by accusing ZANU PF MPs of leaking information to state run media outlets to denigrate their party.
This intense debate is reported to have led to the cabinet decision that both sides should stop the leakages and anyone in breach of that would be arrested and prosecuted.
Makumbe warned the MDC not to behave as though they were equal to ZANU PF ministers because they are not. He said: “The sad part is that the deficit is in favour of Mugabe and against the MDC. And yet the MDC are operating as if everything is quite balanced. They will be shocked when, towards the end of the duration of the government of national unity, Mugabe will increasingly be running the country alone, without consulting the MDC.”
The formation of the so-called “inclusive” government was supposed to bring with it a more independent and free media environment in Zimbabwe. But so far no real progress has been made.
The bottom line is…….why shouldn’t Zimbabweans be told about a cabinet decision on the ZANU PF jingles. It hardly threatens state security and it’s time government officials recognized the fact that Zimbabweans should be allowed to know what’s going on.