This is a photo of the Zimbabwe Independent newsroom. The paper has confirmed in today's issue that they got money from Gono "to buy newsprint". But questions surrounding whether this has compromised the paper's reporting on Gono (especially with regards to his fight with Finance Minister Tendai Biti) remain.
The Zimbabwe Independent, which I revealed on this blog last week had accepted money from Gideon Gono, confirmed the accuracy of that statement in their Editor's Memo in today's issue.
The paper really does not address the issue, only saying that Gono himself has previously revealed the information and that it is not a secret.
Granted, it is not a secret and my story also made revealations about how Gono gave government money to his own paper, The Financial Gazette, which money he immediately claimed back from the paper in his personal capacity as shareholder. He claimed the paper owed him dividends.
At issue, however, is not whether the paper accepted or not (they did and they have accepted and confirmed this). Rather, the issue now is whether acceptance of that money has compromised the paper.
It clearly has, is what I think. It is a fundamental issue of principle that "he who pays the piper calls the tune".
I base this on several publicly available issues:
Last week's issue carried a story that said "double standards" had been "exposed" in the ongoing "cars-forMPs" saga.
In this story, the paper simply parroted Gono's justification and aided and abetted him in his attempts to incite the MPs to rebel against the MDC-T especially, which has made an issue out of this vehicles thing.
It was Gono himself who first highlighted the so-called double-standards in his supplement in the Herald. It was Gono who first called it "double-standards". That story published by the Independent last week was NOT, therefore, news. Gono had made it news on Monday and the paper simply took Gono's position and republished it.
There is a depper issue at stake here. The paper says the money they got from Gono was a "loan". We all know about those BACCOSSI loans. They were effectively free money, given out in Zimbabwe dollars, payable back after a year or so in Zimbabwe dollars at a ridiculously low interest rate.
Because of inflation that affected the Zimbabwe dollar, that money, by the time it is due to be paid back, would be so ridiculously little that even a street kid could pay it off on behalf of The Independent, using proceeds from washing cars in the city centre.
By any definition, therefore, the extension of that loan is a favour from Gono to the paper.
All businesses were struggling back then because of infaltion and it is not the taking of money that is the issue.
The problem comes when the acceptance of that money leads to the compromising of reportage and objectivity. Go back and read Gono's statement published in the Herald on Monday and then read the story the Independent published last Friday on the "double standards" and tell me whose position the paper was defending there.
The writer of the Editor's Memo in today's issue (it's not Vincent, the Editor of the paper) claims some people thought the article was against Gono!!! Yet the paper does not publish a single article, letter or SMS saying this.
Their website, on the other hand, is full of comments that ALL indicate that everyone saw that the story was pro-Gono, even defending him!
The Editor's Memo concentrates instead on a statement by Webster Shamu, the (ZANU-PF) Minister of Information and Publicity who threatened those who report on proceedings in Cabinet meetings with unspecified action. It remains silent on the issue of objectivity with regards to Gono and fails to publish an explanation on the funds they got.
We do not begrduge them the money. They needed it and were in a fix. Like I said, all companies were. But this should not have been at the expense of the objectivity in the way the paper reports.
Of course, the issue of one of their staffers having a house bought for them by Gono as well as the issue of some of the stories on the Reserve Bank Governor being written by the RBZ PR department were always going to be denied.
Yet the benficiary of that house knows very well that just this week, he phoned Gono to complain that the Governor was "exposing" him. Apparently, he thinks my source is Gideon Gono himself!
But those are side issues.
By any stretch of the imagination, acceptance of cheap funds from Gono by the Zimbabwe Independent newspaper means that they are now beholden to the Governor. We would have wished it to be otherwise and we would have wished for the paper to demonstrate this by refusing to play Gono's game of inciting MPs against ministers in order to divert attention from the real issue with those cars from the RBZ.
The paper failed to do that in the current issue.
I must point out that The Independent retains my respect still. They have played and will continue to play an important role in holding public officials to account.
They remain perhaps the best newspaper in Zimbabwe (except when they report on Gono).
By the way, have you noticed that the Prime Minister and his party have now succesfully hoodwinked the people on the issue of these cars? They have gone silent.
Newspapers who should be informing the public (including relatives of MDC-T activists who were killed in June, some in those very cars) have all gone silent about the issue.
The MDC MPs are still driving those cars. They have refused to hand them back.
Tsvangirai has been defied and greed has won out over principle and ethics.
I repeat what I have previously said: those cars are stained with the blood of MDC activists. What the acceptance of those cars by the MDC-T means is that they consider that blood worth less than the comfort and prestige attached to those cars by the party and its MPs.
THOSE CARS HAVE NOT BEEN RETURNED and instead of investigating, naming and shaming the MDC-T MPs who are still driving them, the press is being complicit in ignoring this very fundamental issue of morality.