Luke-ing the Beast in the Eye: AMH capture a death knell for media plurality and the media reform agenda
All politics is a battle of messages hence the importance of the media in the industry of politics. It came as no surprise therefore when Zimbabweans learnt early this week that Emmerson Mnangagwa’s son-in-law Gerald Mlotshwa had bought significant shares in Alpha Media Holdings, the remaining vestige of the privately-owned media houses in Zimbabwe.
Most of the privately-owned media have been captured by the regime. As for the publicly-owned media, they have since time immemorial been captive to the ruling regime’s political interests. The public media have since become an extension of the Zanu PF information department.
In fact the public media have become so embarrassingly captive to Zanu PF that announcements and notifications of Zanu PF parliamentary caucus and politburo meetings are now prime time news items.
So embedded in Zanu PF are State media journalists to the extent that a host of them participated in the party’s primary elections in 2018 while the ZBC’s chief reporter Reuben Barwe was unashamedly nominated into the Zanu PF’s District Co-ordinating Committee (DCC) for Makoni district last year.
It is important to state from the outset that among the key reform demands ahead of the 2023 elections is media reform. Put simply, the citizens expect Mr Mnangagwa and his government to reform the media and not to capture them.
The citizens want a diversified impartial media owned by truly independent players outside political and commercial control as exhorted by the supreme law of the land.
The capture of the public media is no longer news. But it is the regime’s capture of Alpha Media Holdings, the publishers of The Zimbabwe Independent, The Standard and NewsDay that has awoken the nation to the piranha instinct of the so-called Second Republic.
AMH are also owners of Heart and Soul TV and the capture of the heart and soul of the only remaining privately-owned media house has shaken the media industry to the core.
Mlotshwa, Mnangagwa’s son-in-law who is husband to ED’s daughter Farai, is one notorious guy. ED’s daughter Farai and Mlotshwa, both divorcees at the time of their marriage, wedded at a lavish ceremony at the upmarket Leopard Rock hotel in Vumba, Manicaland.
As part of the First Family’s octopus grip on strategic State and quasi-State bodies, Mlotshwa is also the chairperson of the Sport and Recreation Commission under whose stewardship Zimbabwean football has been suspended from FIFA and banned from participating in all international football competitions.
By virtue of his links to the citadel of power, Mlotshwa has even afforded the luxury of snubbing the parliamentary portfolio committee on Youth, Sport and the Arts.
Mnangagwa’s son-in-law, a lawyer by profession, is the same guy who without any explanation whatsoever transferred the ownership of a client’s private property to the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA).
It must be a sad day in the country’s journalism industry that it is this kantakerous guy, the President’s son-in-law with such despicable credentials, who now owns a huge chunk of the only remaining private media house in the country.
Indeed, the private media has become the last frontier in the regime’s well-calculated ploy to capture the country’s media industry.
With most Zimbabweans now getting their news from various digital platforms, that sector too is under the regime’s firm control as the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) which is in charge of all internet portals, is headed by one Gift Machengete, a former Director (Administration) of the country’s spy agency, the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO).
The Daily News and The Financial Gazette, once fierce critics of the government, have since been captured by the regime and have become pliable shadows of their former bold selves.
The late Douglas Munatsi, yet another ED ally and former chair of the Zimbabwe Investment Development Authority (ZIDA) was on the forefront in the capturing of a private media house, the Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe, now the publishers of both The Daily News and The Financial Gazette.
Munatsi organised the financial package that took over both newspapers that are now under one stable. Both newspapers are now parroting the views of the ruling elite.
It was particularly during the capture of The Daily News that its then editor Stanley Gama unceremoniously left the paper in a move that paved the way for the promotion of more pliable editorial staff to the helm of the editorial team.
At a personal level, I feel greatly pained by the capture of The Daily News and The Financial Gazette, the two papers at which at two different periods I had the privilege to work for as chief news editor during our era of audacious journalism when the private and independently-owned media did not parrot the views of the ruling elite.
It is against this sad and grim background that Mlotshwa has captured the only remaining private media house in the country.
Except a few bold online newspapers like NewsHawks and other online platforms that are still courageously telling the Zimbabwe story, one might as well begin writing the epitaph on the era of bold and audacious journalism in this country.
The capture of AMH comes after last year’s capture of the envisaged opened-up broadcast media sector when the regime doled out independent television licences to its surrogates.
AMH’s capture by Mnangagwa’s family is just but the icing of a deliberate and systematic crusade to capture Zimbabwe’s media industry. There is no diversification whatsoever of the media industry as exhorted by the Constitution when regime apologists take over national communication platforms.
Just as happened with the creation of the Political Actors Dialogue (POLAD) platform, the media terrain has become a Dzepfunde arena where captured media platforms will eternally nod in agreement with whatever government says or does.
Yes, government media has now been replicated in the former private media sector, itself a crude polad–isation of Zimbabwe’s private media.
The capture of AMH and the broadcasting sector now teeming with regime surrogates who were awarded licences compromises the Constitutional cardinal of impartiality and presentation of divergent views as exhorted by section 61 of the Zimbabwe Constitution.
Where a media house is co-owned by the President’s son-in-law, as is now the case with AMH, impartiality and editorial independence become questionable and the pertinent media reform agenda to bring in a diversity of players gets defeated.
The three arms of the State have now been fully captured. First the Executive was captured by the looters and kleptocrats who foisted themselves through a coup in November 2017.
Then the Judiciary was captured mainly through the controversial and unconstitutional extension of the term of the Chief Justice. And Parliament showed that it was captured when it allowed a different political party to recall MPs that it had not deployed to the august House.
Through the capture of AMH and other private media houses and broadcasting stations, , the so-called Fourth Estate now almost appears entirely captured in what is most certainly a tempestuous moment for democracy and media pluralism.
ED’s octopus grip and the Polad — isation of Zimbabwe’s media
Media capture as a crusade has been thriving under the ED regime. Late last year, the regime through the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe brew yet another shocker when it awarded six television licences to its surrogates in a desperate attempt to POLAD-ise Zimbabwe’s television sector.
POLAD is a grouping of pliant and captured political outfits that are purportedly in dialogue with Zanu PF when in actual fact Zanu PF is having a monologue because by speaking to political groups with which they are in agreement, the regime is basically speaking to itself.
Similarly, instead of creating diversity by awarding television licences to independent and diverse players, the regime has ensured its surrogates and the same players already operating in the print and broadcast media sectors are awarded the television licences.
In 2021 and in the week that the world lost a football legend called Diego Maradona, this illegitimate regime did yet another hand of God through unbridled political chicanery that simply showcased the government’s naked pretence at media reform.
At his inauguration after pilfering his way into office through the military’s condign power in 2017, ED promised to implement a comprehensive reform agenda, including media reforms.
Many expected him to walk the talk by bringing truly diverse players and not these Zanu PF surrogates and his antics of brazely capturing both the private and public media in the country. The man has shown he is not committed to any kind of reform, including media reforms.
Mnangagwa is simply no reformer and as we have always said, there can’t be any reform when we have no reformers in this government!
In 2021, the country’s military showed its over-arching hand across the country’s body politic as it was deemed to be stakeholders in two of the six companies awarded television licences. The rest are simply the regime’s surrogates.
Yes, the television sector has yet again been militarised and propaganda bombs will rain from across the country’s television sector.
The military has direct interest in Rusununguko Media, directly owned by the Ministry of Defence, which was awarded a television licence probably in a bid to ensure our esteemed armed forces mount a propaganda coup this time around.
The sight of the November 2017 coup frontman Sibusiso Moyo as a news anchor on Wednesday 15 November 2017 may have inspired our soldiers to naively assume they can now run a television station!
The military are also deemed to have interests in Fairtalk Communications, one of the companies awarded a television licence when they are already running Skyz Metro FM, a radio station based in the country’s second biggest city of Bulawayo.
Other companies awarded television licences include my former work station, The Daily News, now fully captured by the regime to the extent that I am now embarrassed to be associated with it.
And we are told a Mnangagwa ally, the late Harare Minister of State for Provincial Affairs Oliver Chidawu was now one of the shareholders of The Daily News ‘Jester Media (Pvt) Ltd, which will trade under the name 3K TV.
Indeed, it is no jest that Zanu PF’ s footprints are now all over this popular media house, once the cradle of audacious journalism in the country during our days.
The government-controlled Zimbabwe Newspapers, which already runs several newspaper titles and radio stations, was unsurprisingly awarded a television licence.
Channel Dzimbabwe, fronted by war veteran and former ZBC CEO Happison Muchechetere is also part of this despicable cast of Zanu PF apologists that were awarded television licences and will now masquerade as “independent” media players.
So much for this regime’s warped sense of media diversity!
Serial bed-hopper and Zanu PF Goromonzi South constituency aspirant Sharon Mugabe fronts the Acacia Media group, yet another of the regime-linked companies awarded a television licence last year. It is equally predictable what Acacia Media Group will broadcast, given Sharon’s political credentials.
Sharon successfully battled it out with Biata Nyamupinga for the top women’s post in the Zanu PF DCC elections in my rural home district of Goromonzi.
The licences could as well have been granted at Zanu PF headquarters and not by a highly regarded institution such as the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe.
There is definitely no diversity in introducing more of the same. Indeed, sameness is not diversity and these Zanu PF-linked players awarded television licences are the true replica of the fawning broadcast journalism that we have endured under the monopoly of the ZBC.
Just as they have done with POLAD, the regime has created a Dzepfunde television broadcast sector with a penchant for soporific, subservient sunshine journalism.
The regime has simply granted itself television licences. Yes, they are doing it unto themselves by promoting self-serving media outposts.
Put simply, it’s a crude form of informational masturbation in which this decrepit government has sought to do it to themselves for their own propaganda pleasure.
So much for the POLAD-isation of the country’s television sector. Military dictatorships falsely presume that by controlling the media they end up controlling the people which is the reason why before every military coup, soldiers first take over the country’s main radio and television stations.
In communication theory, it is called the magic bullet or the hypodermic syringe theory in which messages are treated as bullets that have an overwhelming effect on passive recipients and soldiers assume, rightly or wrongly, that by controlling the country’s main media outlets, they will be able to control the people.
Yet this is the brave new world and this military dictatorship has to read around the reception theory in communication studies, which rightly asserts that the reader or viewer is not a passive recipient of communication but is always an active player in communication because meaning does not solely reside in the message and whoever controls it.
The reader or viewer is not a passive recipient of message. Meaning comes alive in the reader or viewer’s interaction with message. The human mind is not always susceptible to messages. In short, controlling the media does not always translate into controlling the people.
Well, maybe I am raising the communication tutelage bar too high for this naive military regime that is so desperate to stage yet another coup in the country’s media.
The capture of AMH is a sad indictment on the Mnangagwa regime. It shows that they are not sincere on media reform. In a country where the media reform agenda must promote media plurality and media diversity, it is sad that the piranha, octopus regime is centralising the control of the media industry within the ruling elite as well as those individuals and institutions related to it.
We have seen the regime and its surrogates directly connected to Mr Mnangagwa take control of the mining and extractive sector, fuel procurement and distribution, fertiliser supply, the procurement of ZUPCO buses, etc.
Now his son-in-law has taken over the only remaining private media house in the country. They have taken over Alpha Media House, maybe because they now fancy themselves the alpha and omega of Zimbabwe’s media industry.
The capture of AMH is a sad story not only in Zimbabwean journalism but in the crusade and fight for media reforms in the country.
Luke Tamborinyoka, an award – winning journalist and ardent political scientist, is a citizen from Domboshava. He is a change champion and interim deputy secretary for Presidential Affairs in the Citizens Coalition for Change ( CCC ). You can interact with him on his Facebook page or via his twitter handle @ luke_tambo.