NewsDay | Friday December 17 2021 M5 Challenges and projections for MISA Zimbabwe gazing into the future BY SARAH CHIUMBU I joined MISA Zimbabwe in August 1997 as Information and Research Officer. The organisation was then in its infancy with only three people – the then director, the late Vincent Chikwari, Administrator, Annie Musodza, and myself. We made up the first Secretariat of the MISA Zimbabwe chapter. The organisation was then sharing offices with the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. With support from a vibrant board led by Geoff Nyarota and the MISA Regional Office, the MISA Zimbabwe entity, although small, established strong advocacy roots that shape the organisation today. The organisation moved to New Africa Building and continued to grow in leaps and bounds. With limited resources, the three staff members showed dedication and resilience in the face of state harassment. I recall Annie and myself walking the breadth of Harare to deliver invitation letters for the various workshops that MISA held. Many people and organisations did not have access to emails. Hence invitation letters were delivered in person. As surprising as this sounds, the Internet was still novel, and we did not know how to use it effectively. I gave birth to my son in September 1998 and only spent three weeks on maternity leave as I had to return to work. Such was our dedication! Three directors later (Vincent Chikwari, Dr Chifamba and Barney Mapondera), I became the first female national director of MISA Zimbabwe in 2000. I stayed in this position till my departure in July 2004. Critical developments characterised the years between 1997 and 2004: the growth of the regional advocacy campaigns for freedom of expression, the building of local networks with organisations such as the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ), the Federation of African Media Women Zimbabwe (FAMWZ), Zimbabwe National Editors Forum, and the Independent Journalists Association of Zimbabwe. This collaboration planted the seeds of the current Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ). MISA Zimbabwe also joined forces with the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe (CCJPZ) to establish the Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe (MMPZ), an entity to promote responsible journalism through monitoring and analysis of the news and current affairs output on domestic radio and television, and in the print media. These were exciting times as we built beneficial coalitions nationally and regionally to entrench freedom of expression and media freedom. There were innovative campaigns, workshops, seminars, training programmes and marches. Who can forget the famous silent march to Parliament in 2002? The police pounced on the protesters and arrested several people. Thanks to the Media Defence Fund, which MISA Zimbabwe had set up, legal assistance was offered to all those detained. Most of us went into hiding for some days after this event. Still, the spirit of solidarity kept us going in the face of growing authoritarianism and the promulgation of more draconian laws. In the early 2000s, MISA-Zimbabwe was joined by energetic young people – Rashweat Mukundu, Takura Zhangazha, Wilbert Mandinde and Koliwe Nyoni. They brought innovative ideas to grow the organisation; the key one relates to decentralising the work of MISA Zimbabwe to 10 of the country’s provinces through the creation of Advocacy Committees. The early MISA Zimbabwe story is not complete without recognising the role played by women. There was a time when the organisation was led by women – Reyhana Masters as Chairperson, Annie Musodza (and later Abigail Gamanya), and myself. Reyhana’s conceptualising talents, Abigail’s fearless character, Annie’s administrative skills and my diplomatic approach led to outstanding achievements. One of Sarah Chiumbu the accomplishments that I am proud of was buying the MISA House at 84 McChlery Drive Eastlea, Harare, through a SIDA grant. Another woman also played a key role here – Janah Ncube, who assisted us in preparing the proposal to funders. The SIDA grant also purchased the first MISA Zimbabwe car that came in a curious ruby pink! (nothing to do with the female power at the organisation!). Our beloved and kindly driver, the now late Paul Zaru, stood out as he drove the pink car around Harare and the country. The MISA House also brought in Joseph Makiyi, who came in as Chef, but later morphed into several valuable roles. He became the cornerstone of MISA House. I left MISA Zimbabwe in July 2004 with a heavy heart and passed the baton to Rashweat Mukundu, who became the youngest National Director at 26 years old. I knew that I was living the organisation in good hands, and as the years passed, MISA Zimbabwe grew from strength to strength. Rashweat turned over the directorship to Takura Zhangazha, who brought deep thinking and heightened advocacy to the organisation. Takura passed on the (advocacy) role to Tabani Moyo, the resourceful director who has re-branded MISA Zimbabwe and placed it on the world map. Under the leadership of these three young men, with the excellent assistance of Nyasha Nyakunu, then MISA Zimbabwe senior programmes officer, the organisation became adept at lobbying key stakeholders, notably the Parliament of Zimbabwe through its relevant Portfolio Committees. Over the years, MISA Zimbabwe successfully lobbied for media reforms and gained big wins for media freedoms. Key achievements include the adoption of progressive and explicit constitutional provisions on media freedom, freedom of expression and access to information as now provided for in the country’s 2013 Constitution, the partial opening of the broad- casting sector and the striking off of Section 96 of the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act, which made defamation a criminal offence. Looking to the future, freedom of expression NGOs such as MISA face challenging times as the communication eco-system keeps transforming. Advocacy issues within the ambit of digital rights and freedom of expression online include digital access, online content regulation, privacy and surveillance, misinformation and disinformation on social media platforms. The implications of data and artificial intelligence-driven tools for media freedom and freedom of expression are also essential to consider. While the introduction of AI-driven tools can create new opportunities for users to exercise their freedom of expression rights, automated filtering and sorting can also result in new digital inequalities and unequal opportunities for access to information. While personal data has taken an increasing role in all of our lives, the ownership and control of this data are not just questions for people in the IT sector, but also for those interested in freedom of expression and human rights. ____________________________________ Sarah Chiumbu is an associate professor in the School of Communication, University of Johannesburg, South Africa and former national director with MISA Zimbabwe. A people's media in our time BY RASHWEAT MUKUNDU A s MISA Zimbabwe marks 25 years of existence, one cannot but marvel at the changes in the media spaces that have unfolded over time. Gazing into the future, it is again impossible to imagine what the media ecosystem will shape out to be. One reality is likely to stand out, that media spaces will increasingly belong to the people more so as the online or internet based digital media spaces continue to grow and breach the many bottlenecks, policy and blockages that authorities will try to put in place. Going back 25 years into the past, it was almost impossible to dream that Zimbabwe would have a constitutional order as we have now, with Sections 61 and Sections 62 specifically protecting, promoting media and free expression rights. Never mind the intransigence of political leaders in trampling these rights, the foundation is firmly set and what is left is to build on the principles set out in the Constitution. It was almost impossible to think that the monopoly of the state broadcaster, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) would be broken. In 2021 Zimbabwe has licensed community radio stations, and commercial TV and radio. The key change forced on the ruling elite was that the old order was no longer sustainable. The changes have not come on a silver platter but are a result of years of advocacy and engagement on these matters. If the political elite had a choice, Zimbabwe would not have the online based social media space which has contributed to the democratisation of the media space, much to the disappointment of the political leadership. An interesting observation as MISA marks 25 years, is the resilience of media reform advocates. If there was an area from which one would easily have quit from, the media sector is one such area, for the monopoly of the state broadcaster, and the ruling elite's determination to maintain a media monopoly appeared to be ironclad. Generations of Zimbabweans have lived under the media monopoly structure in which the interests of the elites are protected by a welloiled propaganda machinery. Rashweat Mukundu In the past 25 years violence has been used against journalists, prominent of which are the bombings of the Daily News, and VOP, the dismissal of hundreds of journalists from the ZBC and other state-controlled media. The political capture of some private newspapers, abuse of undemocratic media law to shut down independent media, beatings, threats and arrests of hundreds of journalists and deportation of some. All this made media advocacy more depressing and, in some cases, hopeless. Change, however, has been built step by step and over decades and generations. It is for this reason that 25 years on, new media entities spawned by MISA have in turn become critical in advancing the media reform agenda from the opening of the broadcasting sector, media regulation to sustainable community information platforms we now have. Aided, and through online media, the transformation of the media spaces can only outpace the restrictions we see. Attempts at shutting down civic voices through cyber laws are bound to fail as the net is now a people's platform. The media is no longer alone, but now shares the same spaces with mil- lions of others in Zimbabwe and billions in the world. The Zimbabwe government should develop media policy with the understanding that the public can no longer be silenced, but can only be conversed with. Leaders have to learn to listen and engage and not dominate, learn to share and not restrict and deny. The future of media policy must focus on media as platforms of dialogue on national developmental and governance issues and not for control and managing information. It is only when quality information is part of our daily conversations that we can collectively fight misinformation and disinformation. Dis and mis - information is partly aided by a lack of access to quality information and absence of public conversations. Throttling the net, monopolising media spaces such as Zimpapers and ZBC can only fuel the tensions and mistrust in an already polarised society. Apart from a few policy issues, cyber security included, Zimbabwe's future media is anchored on platforms of content generation and information sharing. Authorities must accept this reality or always be on the back foot. Journalists have to accept that the world we are in has significantly changed, and that journalism is now conversational and not downloading information to passive audiences. We are in a world where explainer, sustainable and public interest journalism must take root, more so as Zimbabwe and the entire globe, face existential threats such as climate and environmental disasters and pandemics. Media policy must therefore promote access to information, sharing and participation. Journalism must go beyond the ordinary to talk to the challenges society faces. While Zimbabwe remains in the deep waters in its politics, one sure thing is that the public is in the midst of dialogues and discussions. While we still need to expand such platforms to rural communities, the tide is favouring the people. Our programming going forward must have communities at the centre. ______________________________________ Rashweat Mukundu is a Zimbabwean journalist and former national director with MISA Zimbabwe.