VICTORIA FALLS – The chairman of the Zimbabwe Newspapers Group (Zimpapers) has told editors to openly declare support for Zanu PF before elections, claiming: “It happens everywhere.”
Tommy Sithole told editors at a retreat in Victoria Falls last Thursday that they should not be “ashamed” of supporting the ruling party, claiming this was a “national agenda.”
“We can do better, and we want to do the best we can to support the government, to support the system, because it’s never something to be ashamed of to be supporting a government, to be supporting the party (Zanu PF),” Sithole, a former editor of The Herald, said.
“It happens everywhere, even in the United States and the United Kingdom that before elections, newspapers declare which candidate they are going to be supporting. It’s not something that we’re inventing, it’s something that’s there.
“The fact is that there’ not a single editor in our entire system who is going to sit there and say I’m going to do down the government.”
Zimpapers is majority-owned by the Zimbabwe Mass Media Trust on behalf of the public, with other shareholding held by private investors who bought shares on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange.
Zimpapers, which has over a dozen publications, a printing division, radio stations and a TV licence, was bought from its South African owners with money donated by the Nigerian government in 1980.
The Zanu PF government has controlled Zimpapers through manipulating board and editorial appointments to turn the country’s biggest media group into a party mouthpiece.
Njabulo Ncube, the secretary of the Zimbabwe Editors Forum, said: “While Mr Sithole is right that newspapers around the world have been known to pick a candidate during elections, a close analysis will show that those who do so are private organisations and not public-owned entities like Zimpapers or the ZBC who have a public duty to be neutral and fair in their reporting.
“He should remind us of the day the BBC or even the SABC next door ever picked a political party during elections. Of course he can’t, never happened. His directions to the editors are therefore quite unfortunate.”
Sithole has faced accusations from Zimpapers staff of being meddlesome, particularly in editorial. Following his appointment, he demanded and was given an office at the Zimpapers head office at Herald House.
Subsequently, he created a WhatsApp group for all editors where he was daily reviewing their work. The WhatsApp group was eventually shut down after editors complained to information minister Monica Mutsvangwa.