ANGRY journalists from all the country’s national newspapers humiliatesn Econet Wireless.

Felex Share Harare Bureau
ANGRY journalists from all the country’s national newspapers yesterday humiliated Econet Wireless and walked out of a press conference called by executives of the mobile phone operator’s banking unit, Steward Bank, to clarify Thursday’s raid on the offices of the business news agency, The Source.

The placard-waving scribes, some with their mouths covered to symbolise a violation of press freedom, demanded an apology from Steward Bank legal head Tawanda Nyambirai and acting CEO, Lance Mambondiani, for invading the newsroom of The Source, before proceedings could start.

Nyambirai, who did the talking, refused to apologise and all hell broke loose when he was about to go into his prepared speech as journalists broke into song and dance in protest.
Journalists mob Econet lawyer Tawanda Nyambirai after an aborted Press breifing
Earlier on, the journalists had refused to participate in a prayer that had been requested by a Steward Bank staffer.

The journalists said that Econet officials, police and the Deputy Sheriff had not opened with a prayer when they invaded The Source to recover what officials said was stolen information about the bank’s clients which had been used in two stories circulated by the agency.

Chaos reigned supreme as the angry journalists and Nyambirai clashed openly, with some journalists waving placards to his face and telling him to “Stop It!”— a phrase coined by First Lady Grace Mugabe when she attacked corrupt individuals in the country.

Some of the placards read: “Don’t gag the media”, “Say no corporate bullies”, and “Press Freedom is a Constitutional right.”

A provisional High Court order granted by Justice Joseph Musakwa last week empowered Econet officials and lawyers, the Deputy Sheriff and security agents to enter The Source’s premises in central Harare to recover the information. They ransacked the agency’s computers and extracted information from emails.

Econet risk officers, instead of the Deputy Sheriff, did most of the searches and in some cases opened emails that had nothing to do with their case in a move described by the government and media representatives as a threat to media freedom and freedom of expression as guaranteed under Section 61(1) and (2) of the Constitution.

Justice Musakwa also ordered The Source — an affiliate of the Thomson Reuters Foundation — to “delete and expunge” two articles the online publication recently published about Econet and Steward Bank.

One of the articles titled “Debt-distressed Zimbabwe moves to reschedule domestic debt”, claimed that the government had borrowed $30 million from Econet, disbursed through Steward Bank, in a deal brokered by Nyambirai.

The article claimed that Nyambirai pocketed a substantial facilitation fee for brokering the deal.

The other contentious story alleged that Steward Bank was considering swapping residential stands worth $2,1 million to recover funds borrowed by a property firm owned by businessman Phillip Chiyangwa.

The Source, through their lawyer Chris Mhike, raised constitutional questions and sought to have the matter referred to the Constitutional Court. Judgment on the application had not yet been delivered when Econet swung into action.

Yesterday, journalists could be heard shouting: “Your money is of no use today, Nyambirai”, and “How would you feel if your email asking about the facilitation fee is opened?”

Nyambirai tried to explain to the journalists that the documents used in the stories were stolen, but the journalists would have none of it and walked out.

He said: “The information was private and confidential and it related to the private business transactions of the clients of Steward Bank. The banker-client relationship is a relationship in utmost good faith. As much as you have freedom of expression, we also have our freedom and privacy.”

One journalist shot back: “With the behaviour you exhibited, you are the least qualified person to talk about freedom.”

Zimbabwe Union of Journalists secretary-general Foster Dongozi said Econet had become arrogant and considered itself so big that it could trample on everyone’s rights.

Mhike said they would wait for their urgent application to have the matter referred to the Constitutional Court.

“I have just indicated to Steward Bank and Econet that we’re very open to resolving this squabble in a more amicable fashion,” he said.

“We do respect the court processes that are ongoing at the High Court and hopefully soon at the Constitutional Court, but at the same time, as those developments unravel, there is always room for the parties to discuss and resolve the matter.”
Journalists mob Econet lawyer Tawanda Nyambirai after an aborted Press breifing
MISA chairman Kumbirai Mafunda, said freedom of expression and press freedom were the “lifeblood of democracy” and should be respected.

Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Minister Professor Jonathan Moyo has condemned Econet, accusing the Strive Masiyiwa-owned conglomerate of using “Gestapo-like tactics”.

Nelson Banya, The Source’s editor, said on Twitter: “How to explain the irony of a court-sanctioned colonoscopy, performed by a bank and a communications firm founded on freedom of expression.”
Chronicle

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