Desperate need for media credibility

HARARE - Zimbabwe's public mass media have lost credibility and readers/listeners/viewers confidence in the years since government began to use them as tools of cheap propaganda and repression.
The heavy coverage of government and ruling party business is blatantly pos

itive while the sanctioned reporting of opposition activities is always negative. Government’s incompetence and official corruption are swept under the carpet in the name of sovereignty and patriotism. State media peddle falsehoods and outright lies in order to destroy both the opposition and critical civil society organizations, and to consolidate the disastrous land reform.
The Smith regime adopted a similar information policy in the 1960s and 1970s: racist, repressive, propagandist. But the black majority did not believe the local media back then. Instead they relied on external broadcasters like the Voice of Zimbabwe in Maputo, BBC, Radio Moscow, etc. History seems to be repeating itself.
To fend competition off, the Zimbabwe government denied the only private daily newspaper, The Daily News, an operating license in 2003. A few months ago, the High Court ordered the controversial Media and Information Commission (MIC) board to recuse itself from the case because of its chairman Tafataona Mahoso’s bias. No action was taken.
In some parts of Manicaland province, the distribution of licensed private weekly newspapers is reportedly not allowed, violating those people’s constitutional right to information.
Private broadcasters and community radio stations have been refused licenses, forcing them to broadcast from outside the country’s borders. Those broadcasts have become popular as they tell the truth and expose government’s excesses.
In 2003 parliament unashamedly passed the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), a draconian piece of legislation which has since turned its chief architect, Jonathan Moyo into a victim. Using this law, government has persistently harassed and intimidated journalists employed by the private media by taking them to court for trumped up charges and denying them licenses.
Interestingly, the information ministry set up at independence in 1980 was headed by a renowned journalist, Nathan Shamuyarira, who transformed the mass media from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe. State media earned credibility and public confidence, which grew gradually over time.
Shamuyarira is also credited with establishing in 1981 the national news agency, ZIANA which soon established local and international credibility because of its accuracy and balance.
Government also formed the Zimbabwe Mass Media Trust to create a buffer between officialdom and the state print media to curb interference. The Trust played a pivotal role in shaping and guiding the state media until it was dismantled 23 years later by Jonathan Moyo. The disastrous effect is abundantly clear for all to see.
In 2000, experienced journalists stressed to the new official managers of information the crucial importance of credibility in the media industry, but their advice fell on deaf ears.
Instead officials embarked on a crusade of firing most experienced staff and hiring college “greens” who dance to the tune of their employer and flout the most basic principles of the profession.
The ministry of information is characterized by political intolerance, aversion to criticism and covering up official corruption and incompetence.
But it is generally accepted that able and democratic leadership feeds on criticism. Those who tolerate criticism perform better and become popular. And one way of fighting corruption and incompetence is exposure through the media. Corrupt officials shun publicity. Prosecuting or firing corrupt leaders is another way of curbing corruption.
Journalism as a profession has been regressing from Zimbabwe to Rhodesia since 2000. Today, when professional journalists read state newspapers, listen to the radio and watch television, they bow their heads in shame. They know that the public does not believe a word.
AIPPA should be repealed and the MIC abolished without delay. And because competition generally breeds improvement, the country needs more newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations.

Post published in: Opinions

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