Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, The Bornwell Chakaodza memorial lecture, to which all of you and I have been invited, offers us an opportunity for introspection and a chance to observe the journey we travelled together with him during the past 32 years.
At Independence in 1980, our revolutionaries promised us a society where all can take part as equals in politics and in political debates; and where all were assured a voice and an audience without the nest of Rhodesian-type spooks and snoopers listening in for wicked purposes.
At Independence, our revolutionaries promised us a nation that guaranteed personal growth, the right of all citizens - black and white, young and old, to fashion out and to raise our arguments freely; a nation that pledged to help us to grow our skills based on equal opportunities; and a nation poised to expose our real personalities. The promise was to be premised on free speech, before and after delivery, as a way to build, to be happy, to shun narrow-mindedness and injustice; and to fight corruption.
Great promises, indeed. But they never saw the light of day!
The organisers of this occasion could, perhaps, have chosen to celebrate Chakaodza's memory for something else other than the fight for media freedom if the promises of 1980 were honoured. We could all be in a totally different country with a level of advancement unmatched, certainly, in Africa.
Celebrated writer Dambudzo Marechera was unfortunate to become one of the first casualties of what was to come. Marechera was roughed up and detained early 1983 when he questioned the size and length of the official motorcade as one of our nation's new leaders arrived at the Kingston's Bookshop in the then corner of what is now Jason Moyo Avenue and Second Street for the official opening of the Zimbabwe International Book Fair.
In a usual style, Marechera pronounced his disgust, on top of his voice while standing at the entrance to the building: "What kind of democratic leader is this? Why should a popular leader need such a security wall around him?" Although he lived in Harare Gardens at the time, on this day he spent a night as a guest of the state at Harare Central Police Station.
The Minister of Information and Tourism then quickly withdrew Marechera's accreditation card and declared him an "an enemy newsman".
Two years later, Gordon Matatu, suffered a similar fate after his story highlighted state excesses in an attempt to contain rebels in western Zimbabwe.
Both Marechera and Matatu continued to write and to work for their publications, nevertheless. The only disadvantage they faced was that they were no longer allowed into government buildings and at government functions where an accreditation card was always demanded as some kind of journalistic passport.
Their colleagues could always record, on tape what happened there and pass on the material to them, making the whole exercise total futile and ineffectual. So much for official media regulation!
But those journalists whose ancestry was deemed foreign simply because they happened to be white, including Aubrey McDowell, the Deputy Editor of The Herald and Bill Hipson, the paper's crime reporter, and Jan Raath, then working for The Times of London, were initially detained and later deported. Jan Raath returned home soon afterwards, but Aubrey and Bill never set foot on Zimbabwean soil again.
It dawned on all of us, during these early years of freedom, that ordinary people and their media representatives, in their diversity, were never actually meant to be part of our national discussions as we had been promised at the beginning.
What later happened to Willie Musarurwa, Henry Muradzikwa, Geoff Nyarota and Davison Maruziva, Nyika Bara and Robin Shava, to name a few, during the first decade of a new Zimbabwe, and dozens of others, in subsequent years, are well known cases.
As Adam Smith stated in Theory of Moral Sentiment, 1759, one needs leather shoes and starched white shirt to be taken seriously at a political meeting, meaning one what has to combine substance and means to be heard. Because of their poverty and lack of leather shoes and starched white shirts soon after attaining their freedom in 1980, the people of Zimbabwe sincerely looked up to the media as their messenger and protector.
When the media came under attack, they people lost out.
At the time Zimbabweans were too either busy picking up the pieces scattered by the liberation war; to rebuild their lives; or, in the case of Matabeleland, they were totally confused about a new political hurricane that had hit them, in the form of black-on-black oppression; and were just too weak to raise their heads.
In any case, no-one was prepared to listen to them anyway, least those in authority.
By the year 2000, the whole country watched with horror when those who, for two decades, had subjected the people to a raw deal suddenly
turned into aristocratic snobs, in rare show of unity against anything that moved in the opposite direction. The results are clear to all today.
The few villagers who landed on small pieces of fresh earth as lucky settlers are always the first ones to call for food assistance. They neither have schools nor roads leading to their mud shacks and rudimentary shelters, 12 years after their supposedly and newly found treasure.
In the decade I have been away from mainstream journalism, I have come to realise that the elite have succeeded in dividing Zimbabwean journalists and, by extension, the society they are supposed to survey, as a survival mechanism.
I sincerely believe and subscribe to the contemporary and universal view that government ministries of information should be disbanded and turned into repositories of public records. As regulatory authorities, together with their side-kicks such as the Zimbabwe Media Commission and others, their performance history leaves a sour taste in the mouth.
Ladies and gentleman, a visitor to Zimbabwe today can easily be excused, upon reading local newspapers or listening to any radio news bulletin or watching television, to assume that the country has two or more governments on the verge of a war.
There appears to be a general portrayal of two societies baying for each other's demise; societies led by two different national leaders with separate governments.
A picture is often painted showing the two countries rolling apart, with leaders trying to outdo each other at the earliest opportunity. A lot of this confusion appears to be deliberate as message conflicts take centre stage.
The material which is supposed to fall under the definition of news, commentary and analysis in our crowded media market today, including that which is available on a large bouquet of Internet sites and blog-spots, is so speckled and mottled at best, and totally puzzling, at worst.
What stands out of this potpourri of discordant voices are intolerance; open bias and sloppy editing; inadequate news sourcing; a weak ethical string; and a strong reliance on a select, heavily soiled and desperate coterie of partisan "analysts".
The people are often talked to; they are coached on what to say; they driven into the kind of action they least understand, including - for example - being forced to sign documents, officially known as petitions against our perceived enemies!
As a result, the combined collection of what it means to be a Zimbabwean appears to have been lost in the mire of political propaganda and misinformation, camouflaged as journalism out of fear of official censure.
Sadly this is happening at a time when the professional communicator faces a dilemma caused by the ends of gaps s/he is expected to bridge through journalism.
The scenery is changing so rapidly, requiring constant adaptation to an equally changing body of knowledge a communicator must use to remain relevant, again, to an equally changing expectations of a society s/he must serve.
The scenery before us makes official regulation and enforcement of rules and codes hatched elsewhere to act as a midwife, referee or general supervisor of today's information flows, totally impossible and unnecessary.
Official regulators enforce compliance, declare and manage penalties, ensure the delivery of obligations and impose levies and duties.
Unlike the media, they are not interested in public service. That journalism whose core mission is centred on public service is supposed to co-exist with such a regulatory craft, industry meant to enforce conformity at the slightest opportunity, beggars belief!
Official regulators define and restrict liberty and freedoms out of their job description; they always use force and the law in their daily routines; and can even ban speech or kill journalism at the drop of a hat. They are mandated to cite regulations or the law in their actions; yet edicts or laws - on their own cannot think!
Communication demands thinking; speaking, as an activity, reflects our thoughts.
These restrictions are rarely imposed on a nation's enemies in times of war; they are used on a country's own people, in the interests of a privileged interest group. This undoubtedly, as Bornwell Chakaodza often pointed out, inflicts deadly blows on, and directs poisoned arrows at the heart of the quality of life in a democracy.
Official regulators are normally selective on which approach to deploy, and when to attack. As we saw in the last decade, the choice of methods for procuring compliance was biased and highly partisan, leading to the immense suffering of hundreds of workers and their families associated with the privately owned media.
To make matters worse, those appointed to hold the hangman's noose were rarely independent, whether that independence is enshrined in law or through some statutory edicts. Their assigned responsibilities could never match voluntary, publicly contracted accountability and sensitivity centred on broader customer satisfaction and genuine public service.
Chakaodza and his colleagues subscribed to the view that public and inter-personal communication and self-expression enhance our common
humanity. Freedom of expression, as a natural right, can never policed by a paid officer - who is normally a societal misfit and a failure -- under the direction of social and political engineer.
Over centuries societies understand that self-expression and messaging, through human, can easily become inhumane if deemed to threaten specific interests and sectored privileges. In our case, regulated forms of communication and journalism have tended to take on our reality and our generic rights.
When communication becomes inhumane, there is a universal ethic -- straddling across cultures - that sees such behaviour running against
the grain of common sense and common decency. It distorts our values, impairs our vision and directs poison at our sensitive aspects of dignity and self-esteem.
The essence of good journalism is, and has always been, unfettered publicity. If the stimulus for professional growth through journalism is right, and I believe Zimbabwe is still a huge story, official media regulation and subtle censorship are the main impediments to professional advancement and quality service.
Gone are days when secrecy was the hallmark of good government. The extensive menu of controls to protect state secrets, known to shackle women and men of ordinary nerve as a public control mechanism, has outlived its usefulness.
With the current digital revolution, the place of lily-livered and pliant stenographers of the elite who masquerade as journalists is fast fading as people search for alternative views using the new communication tools at their disposal.
With our experience in Smith's Rhodesia, where faith, trust and confidence in the public media was next to zero, we never expected a new Zimbabwean leadership to be persuaded to follow Rhodesian information control systems. Well, that is the contradiction of African nationalism.
It fights hard against the oppressor using the need for a system change as a rallying cry, only to embrace the oppressor's governance template upon victory. When nationalism adopts an oppressor's model, common sense instantly ceases to be common.
The result is a national story that differed substantially from the reality.
For that reason, there continues to exist a huge disconnect between what the power elites want to see and hear and what ordinary people witness, see and hear in their homes and in their communities. Chakaodza and most of us here today are still yearning for a day and time when the clouds could clear for media professionals to be allowed to seize control of their professional lives without official hindrance.
The complex sets of struggles within our nation have often been blurred, as personal and community experiences remain buried deep inside our chests, out of genuine fears of potential retribution and official censure, merely for speaking out.
Un-muffling the African drum as a traditional communication tool; standing up to official and deliberate distortions of reality; and to be guided by common sense and common decency are among the numerous values that guided Chakaodza, through his work.
Chakaodza believed in his chosen role as early warning sounding board for dangers along Zimbabwe's path.
Through official controls Zimbabwe lost a golden chance to develop a national publication of record in a nation in the making, and in nation that was, and still is, facing its most trying time. A heavily polarised media environment has since sunk in, making it difficult for consumers to separate biased opinion from sacred fact.
Through a surfeit of stories and incisive opinions and academic policy papers, Chakaodza and dozens of professional colleagues of his generation fought tirelessly for journalistic excellence, resulting in the formation of the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe.
The rallying point maintained by Chakaodza has always been the need for a media service that is totally free of official, business and elite interference and meddling.
With a number of colleagues, Chakaodza spearheaded the formation of a voluntary media council out of a strong belief that the media was just
as reasonable and responsible to manage itself and to be guided by a shared definition of what constitutes legitimate public interest.
The media, in their view, had a cardinal public duty and obligation to pursue the ideals of truth-telling, honesty and fairness as openly as possible while constantly avoiding a potential collision at any intersection of these ideals with the potential to inflict harm on innocent individuals and to society at large.
An accountable media must be anchored to a culturally defined covenant with the people for it to be able to renew and to review its public performance and public behaviour.
With the public interest in mind, perhaps the time has come for voluntary media councils to undertake system, performance and quality control audits of their members to show their seriousness.
Such a media is likely to grow and insist on specific norms and standards to enhance its credibility. Relevance on the media market is determined by behaviour, a clearly spelt out public service mission and public sensitivity.
Only a robust voluntary media council, keen to strengthen democracy through open debates and discussion, would help its members to meet that challenge.
Effective voluntary media councils always go beyond the "Agony Aunt" syndrome neither are they mere reception areas for protests, or storerooms of public grievances and corporate complaints.
Effective media councils assist the industry and its professionals to understand the overwhelming impact of their soft power on the innocent, the voiceless and the vulnerable.
They could work as additional circulation builders through the publication of regular, transparent ratings of the conduct of their members.
Voluntary media councils, in concert and in consultation with the people, must lead their constituencies in defining what is both human and humane. Such councils must be entirely voluntary: this means they should never come into being because of threats of statutory regulation.
Being totally voluntary would enable such councils to play a down-to-business role; to monitor and assess media standards; to mediate on fall-outs; to lobby for a conducive operating environment; and even to train and, even to discipline, their members.
They must be impartial, non-partisan and professional; enjoying public trust and public confidence.
We owe it to Chakaodza and his colleagues to overcome the burden of official media regulation in order to allow the people to do their business in an open and honest environment.