Michelle Stanistreet's Harare diary part 5: ZUJ members speak out
27 August 2009
A delegation from the NUJ visited the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists in Harare between 16–21 August 2009. Michelle Stanistreet kept a diary of her experiences on the visit.
True Independence at the Independent
Meeting with journalists over drinks and in the workplace has made all the difference to boosting our understanding of the forces at work here. We had a great meeting with the editor of the business paper The Independent, Vincent Kahiya, talking about the skills gap in the industry, the challenges of working under such repressive legislation and the everyday threat of violence and intimidation.
Along with his news editor, Vincent was arrested in May for breaking a story about the arrest and torture of human rights campaigner Jestina Mokoko. Accused of spreading "alarm, despondency and public disaffection" by the government, they both spent the night in the cells and have racked up five court appearances since then. The trial to establish whether the arrests were constitutional has yet to start.
Listening to him, it is clear that the need for ZUJ is great. "You work with an axe over your head," says Vincent.
"The pressure is huge. I've been there before, but it sends a serious message down the line. If you do not toe the line, they remove you. We've a very young newsroom. Lots of young journalists really wouldn't want to take the risks. This government believes newspapers are instruments of control, of power. They don't believe their constituencies need information.
"At the moment, the public are certainly not getting quality information. Journalists have made the mistake in the past of seeing this as an attack against us as a profession, but this is an attack on information. We've tended to be rather selfish in our fight. We've failed to take our fight out into the open. People need to understand this is about the citizenry and we need a broad coalition to take on the fight."
The main purpose of our visit was to extend practical support and solidarity to our colleagues in ZUJ. To do that we need to know exactly what the challenges are for journalists working here, we need to know what they want to change, and we need them to come up with a programme of activities that could achieve this. That was the purpose of the workshop and we got all of that and more.
It was knackering and intensive, and some of the debates proved heated, but the 18 journalists taking part came up with some brilliant ideas which made it worthwhile for us all. There was clear consensus about the need for ZUJ to develop more organisation at the grassroots, to focus on bread and butter trade unionism in order to boost their collective strength and improve their political muscle.
If we're to help ZUJ get some funding via DFID, a funding stream that is incredibly competitive, we need to make our bid as strong as possible and the input we got in Harare will mean we can jointly come up with a project submission that could truly make a difference for journalists on the ground in Zimbabwe.
Read the rest of the diary: