STRUGGLING local newspaper companies and radio stations have taken delivery of a total $3, 2 million windfall in advertising revenue by the central bank in its drive to popularise the imminent bond notes.
However, news editors say this has presented them with the unenviable job of toning down their reportage on the much loathed currency as company owners fear losing out on the boon.
But while there has been no evidence linking any Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) official to any attempts to force the spinning of the current newspaper rhetoric about bond notes in the positive, observers feel the massive advertising investment poured through the papers has had that effect.
An editor with a local publication told Newzimbabwe this has forced many newsrooms into self-censorship as their employers try to cash in on the bonus.“This is tantamount to muzzling the media,” he said on condition of anonymity.
“It is very difficult now to write freely on the negatives that the bond notes introduction can bring to the economy because our marketing and sales teams are always approaching us pleading that we must tone down the rhetoric on bond notes.”
The state controlled Zimpapers, the country’s largest newspaper stable, is said to be having the lion’s share of the funds with nearly $1, 2 million of the budget.
Information Communications Technology minister Supa Mandiwanzira’s Mighty Movies has the second largest share of the budget. The company has been contracted to package most of the adverts that have appeared in both print and electronic media.
Similarly, private newspapers that have been bearers of the anti-bond note messages have been presented with the rare opportunity of overturning their traditionally negative balance sheets.The money, it has further emerged, is being delivered in cash to all the media houses.
It has also emerged central bank officials have also been having meetings with some media executives, parcelling out hefty amounts to them in terms of allowances.
However, RBZ governor, John Mangudya, admitted the apex bank set aside $3, 2 million towards public awareness on the so-called surrogate currency but denied this was intended to bribe the papers.
“I thought they are still writing the way they have been doing. There is no relationship between what they write and advertising,” Mangudya said in a telephone interview with Newzimbabwe.com
“There is evidence on the ground that they still write what they want.”
The former CBZ CEO further dismissed any thoughts of avoiding publications that continued with negative headlines.
“I am very simple minded; I am very sincere. I don’t do what you are suggesting,” he said.
Mangudya is at pains to convince a highly skeptical transacting public that bond notes will not result in the 2008 economic turmoil during which savings were lost through hyper-inflation.
Lately, panicky Zimbabweans have thronged local banking halls in attempts to withdraw their monies fearing their US dollar deposits were already being converted into bond notes.
Authorities insist the envisaged currency which would be introduced in a matter of weeks, will be at par with the US dollar.
Mangudya admitted there was a central bank committee that was meeting newspaper managers in attempts to prepare the ground for the introduction of bond notes but said he was not personally involved.
The current economic crisis, coupled with intense competition among themselves, has left many local newspapers in the red.
Most publications have gone for months without paying their workers while some were forced to offload staff during the September 2015 job carnage occasioned by a Supreme Court pronouncement that workers’ contracts could be terminated on three months’ notice.