Home » Governance » Govt Fumes Over Ghost Leaks

THE Constitution “does not protect falsehoods”, Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Minister Professor Jonathan Moyo said yesterday as he warned media organisations that “the law will assist them” if they failed to uphold their “professional responsibilities”.

Prof Moyo’s statement follows the publication of a fabricated story claiming that President Mugabe owes businessman Ray Kaukonde $30 million by NewsDay.

When Zanu-PF and the Government flagged the story as false, NewsDay — like they have done in the recent past — refused to publish a retraction.

The Herald, which exposed the source of the falsehoods as one Goodson Nguni of the Federation of Non-Governmental Organisations, has stood by its story and challenged Mr Nguni to have his day in court.

Now Prof Moyo, who has been aocating the relaxation of tough defamation laws, says Government is prepared to use legal instruments at its disposal to force journalists to observe ethical practices.

He singled out NewsDay, which he said was in the business of using “invented and therefore non-existent” Cabinet or Zanu-PF Politburo sources to support falsehoods, as they did in March when they claimed Cabinet had met just once this year when in fact it had met nine times.

The fabrications, the minister said, appeared aimed at inciting public disaffection against President Mugabe.

“The unrelenting onslaught must stop and if those responsible for NewsDay are incapable of discharging their professional and ethical responsibilities, then the law will assist them,” the minister said in a statement last night.

“In the same vein, the practice of scandalous leaks to the media by Government and party officials who are constitutionally sworn to secrecy because of the nature of their responsibilities will no longer be tolerated without fear or favour. More-so because some of these officials are abusing their positions to manufacture and to leak naked lies.”

Prof Moyo said the false reports were “a cause for great concern” and Government “will leave no stone unturned to get to the bottom of the matter in order to nip out the rot.”

He added: “While, for example, Cabinet leaks are by definition unacceptable because they breach the law including the oath of office, what is particularly concerning about the recent leaks is that they invariably have had four characteristic features that are very disturbing.

“First is that the leaks have had no factual basis in that they have been false in content and therefore misleading to the public. An example is a March 31 report by NewsDay which cited an unnamed Cabinet-cum-politburo member as a source of the false claim that by the end of March Cabinet had met only once and skipped nine meetings allegedly because President Mugabe had been unavailable due to what was alleged to be his foreign travel.

“Second, the alleged Cabinet and politburo sources of the recent leaks have been invented and therefore nonexistent or have been second hand as in the case of NewsDay’s May 25 false claim that President Mugabe allegedly told last Thursday’s politburo meeting that he owes businessman Ray Kaukonde $30 million.

“Third, despite the self-evident fact that the leaks have been about patently false allegations and that their sources have been exposed to be either nonexistent or second hand, the peddlers of the leaks have cynically sought to defend these invented sources under Section 61(2) of the Constitution which protects the confidentiality of journalists’ sources of information. This is cynical because the Constitution does not protect falsehoods based on invented or nonexistent sources.

“Fourth, it is curious that one newspaper in particular, NewsDay, has been petulantly persistent in unprofessionally and unethically seeking to incite public disaffection against President Mugabe by publishing blatant falsehoods about Cabinet meetings that have been allegedly skipped and $30m that President Mugabe allegedly told last Thursday’s politburo meeting that he owes Kaukonde. While this is bad, what is worse is that these falsehoods have been based on invented or second hand sources.”

Prof Moyo has been vocal in calling for the removal of criminal defamation from the statutes, but he says it is increasingly becoming difficult to convince Cabinet and Zanu-PF colleagues that this is necessary due to the frequency of fabricated stories impugning the characters of prominent people in the media.

Source : The Herald