A debasement of media profession

THERE is a huge debate going on in Zimbabwe. It is very emotive and has the whole nation on tenterhooks, except it is taking place in the wrong forum.

The mega debate began a few weeks ago when newspapers began writing a story apparently leaked to the media by the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission. The story alleged that Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development Minister Professor Jonathan Moyo and his deputy Godfrey Gandawa had converted money administered by a manpower development parastatal, the Zimbabwe Manpower Development Fund, to personal or party programmes.

The amount involved is estimated at US$400,000, not lunch money for a nation where the government struggles every month to pay civil servants their regular salaries on time.

The logical thing would be for the anti-corruption body to make a detailed report and submit it to the police for further investigation and to determine if the minister has a case to answer. If there is, he is taken to court to clear his name.

In the court of public opinion, a public that is furious at the rumoured high levels of corruption in both the public and private sectors, Moyo is guilty as charged and people wonder why he is still walking free.

At the very least, goes this judgment, he should have resigned his post as a cabinet minister at the first sight of smoke.

But the bigger debate on whether Moyo acted corruptly or not is taking place in Zimbabwe’s polarised media landscape. There, the issues are not as plain as they seem on the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission’s charge sheet, that Moyo converted manpower development funds to personal use or used part of it to fund the political activities of the ruling Zanu PF party, something the accused has admitted to.

In the media, Moyo is being presented as a victim, if not a mere pawn in the drawn-out struggle within Zanu PF to succeed President Robert Mugabe. He himself has not helped matters by telling the less-than discerning media corps that those accusing him of corruption are tribalists who themselves have blood on their hands.

The media appear unable to separate the two issues: Moyo’s own admission that he used his discretion as the trustee of a manpower development agency to use part of its money to buy bicycles for traditional leaders in his Tsholotsho constituency of Matabeleland North and some of it to fund Zanu PF functions.

Here is the point: so far Moyo is innocent, according to Zimbabwean law. He is facing allegations which are yet to be tested in court should he end up face-to-face with a judge. It is for the courts to judge him on his submissions.

But the political spin appears to be taking the upper hand in the local media where Moyo appears to face a political trial rather than a trial for corruption.

In this, we believe the Zimbabwean media have done themselves and the entire nation a load of disservice in two salient respects.

The media have abdicated their key watchdog role on behalf of the people in the fight against corruption by jumping into the political bandwagon.

They have sought to poison the air by raising a lot of political dust to confuse the people instead of putting the charges raised against Moyo in the open for all.

There are too many political rather than legal experts making noise about the charges against Moyo. He is being tried in the media for crimes which don not appear on the ZACC charge sheet. It is all unfair.

When Moyo said his actions were those of the legendary Robin Hood, stealing from the rich to give to the poor, he knew what he was talking about.

Whether that will be evidence to save him from conviction is another matter. Perchance when he has his day in court he will expose more corrupt people.

That is why Moyo should be given his chance in court if Zimbabweans are serious about fighting the scourge of corruption.

As it is, the media are offering a political open sesame.

There are no corrupt public or private sector officials in Zimbabwe. We only have victims of Zanu PF factionalism in the fight to succeed President Mugabe. It’s so sad.