By John Chimunhu
Chairman, African Media Bloggers Association
Harare, December 17, 2015.
“An internet that is accessible and can be freely used can expose corruption, encourage transparency, and foster participation in the political process. It can also advance education, health and economic development. The internet is, in short, a crucial means of empowerment.” – Paula Dobriansky, United States Under-Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, 2006.
It is quite disappointing that 2015 has been marked by the Zimbabwean government’s refusal to meet the International Telecommunications Union’s June 17 deadline to move away from analogue to digital broadcasting. The former minister of media, information and broadcasting services Jonathan Moyo misinformed parliament that the government was working on a new deadline, but this has proved to be typical Zanu PF promises and lies. We have been waiting for broadcasting licences for decades and we are certain that independent broadcasting will never be authorized until the current regime goes.
For this reason, we call on the international community, and in particular the ITU, to consider immediate sanctions against Zimbabwe. This could include a complete telecommunications ban or indefinite blackout on Zimbabwe until the regime of Robert Mugabe abides by international agreements to democratize the airwaves.
We are quite surprised that the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists and media NGOs are not taking the government to task over this matter considering the obvious benefits of digitalization. Under the present scenario, digitalization would make it possible for up to 85 new radio stations and 21 television channels to go on air. How many media jobs would that be?
Blogging has become widely used in Zimbabwe to fill the information gap created by the government’s failure to free the airwaves and open up the media environment to all players. Smaller online publishers, especially in the Diaspora, are taking advantage of recent advances in technology to market their presence with a mixture of savvy gossip and real news.
The internet has become the only source of credible news for a large section of the population. Official statistics show that only 15 percent of households own a television, while 85 percent of the people have used a cell phone in the past year, many of the phones being capable of accessing the internet. Even if more people owned televisions, censorship is a hallmark of ZBC news.
Unfortunately, Zimbabweans will not be able to fully enjoy recent advances in internet technology. The home audience remains constrained by limitations on internet usage ranging from poor connectivity and high tariffs to monitoring and threats by state agents. Internet repression remains official Zimbabwean government policy, affirmed by the ruling Zanu PF party’s leaders at their annual congress in December 2014. Among Zanu PF’s resolutions was one to limit internet usage in Zimbabwe, which goes against the global objective approved by the United Nations to expand access to the internet as a way of increasing the flow of information and reducing poverty.
Serious bloggers encountered numerous problems. Many of us endured harassment and threats, not only from the government, but from opposition officials and private companies. The opposition MDC-T banned its members from participating in online groups and ordered some closed. This was a major step backwards for a movement that is shunned by the mainstream media and can only send its messages through social media. Some have even suggested that the discredited MDC-T is fulfilling Zanu PF wishes to limit internet usage.
Bloggers formed the African Media Bloggers Association (AMBA) to represent their interests after realising that the existing unions and media NGOs do not cater to this growing sector. So far, AMBA has recorded significant progress in implementing its strategic plan. We set up a Facebook group, where many members have been promoting their blogs.
Because of this platform, many previously unknown bloggers have emerged and are doing a great job of showcasing their work. Some even rival huge media companies in terms of output and influence.
Going forward, we are working on hosting our first Bloggers Summit in 2016, where AMBA will be formally launched and various programmes introduced. We need more training for our members in terms of raising funds, online production, ethics, marketing, the law, entrepreneurship/making money from an online business, digital security, access to information etc. In fact, members can prepare their own summit agenda, listing their requirements, and send it through Facebook.
Finally, let me encourage all bloggers in Zimbabwe and on the African continent to keep focussed on their goals despite the setbacks we keep getting over licensing, threats to our physical security and sustained state campaigns to discredit bloggers and undermine their work.
I wish you all a Merry Christmas and greater success for your blog in 2016.
Chairman, African Media Bloggers Association.
Mobile: 263 779 582 971