Patriotism vs truth?

Jonathan Moyo’s recent efforts to “engage with the media” were headlined in the Herald as an “appeal to the mainstream media to be patriotic”. Unfortunately his understanding of patriotism is as defective as that of Zanu (PF)’s tame historians.

I find two flaws in the erratic professor’s disquisition on the function of the mainstream media; the first is a factual error; the second is a sense of moral values. He claims that the mainstream media in the US and in Britain do not oppose the positions and policies of the ruling elite. Even in the US, where this is more than 95% true, it is not 100% true. I know more about the British media than the American, so I will keep my examples within what I know. Even if the prof’s statement is 95% true in the UK, it is less so there than in America and certainly not 100%.

For example, there is lively debate in parts of the British press on whether the West should intervene militarily in Syria. If the British mainstream media was “patriotic” in the prof’s sense, the Independent would not have been publishing Robert Fisk’s story after story showing that major Western governments (maybe not all of them) and their powerful oil companies are not interested in removing Middle Eastern dictators out of a love for democracy; dictators who serve the interests of the Western oil and armaments industries, like the Saudi and Bahraini monarchies, are safe. Fisk may help to force the British elite to question whether removing the first elected government Egypt has had in the last 6,000 years of its history was a good thing.

And that is where the question of values comes in. There are voices in the mainstream British media which don’t simply “follow the flag” and any militarist who waves it, but instead ask “should he be waving that flag?” In a country that respects the freedom of the media (and none do that perfectly, because most rulers don’t like to be criticised), a free press offers a place for debate on policy. This tells the politicians when people consider their pet policies wrong, and indicates how strongly voters will resist those policies. In short, the media gives the people a voice, which helps them influence how their rulers act.

Free media also informs the public about misbehaviour in high places. The spokesmen who claimed at the time of Willowgate that “investigative journalism” was unpatriotic were trying to defeat Zimbabwe’s one successful attempt to punish and limit corruption among our ruling elite. A British example of exposing misdeeds in high places was when a junior defence minister, John Profumo, was shown to have been patronising a prostitute whose other customers included an intelligence agent from the Soviet embassy – and Profumo had lied about the affair in Parliament. Other high officials had moved in the same sleazy social circles. The clean-up led to defeat for Macmillan’s government in the next election. No doubt that is why the prof dislikes free media.

His one mention of values contains another factual error. He invokes Section 3 (1) (i) of the Constitution that talked about defending the founding values and principles of the liberation struggle and “recognition of and respect for the struggle.”

Respect for values and principles is different from slavish obedience to the party that won independence. It should lead us to question whether that party has respected the values and principles we believed they were fighting for in the 1970s.

For example, Zanu (PF)’s 1980 election manifesto spoke about consulting the people as widely as possible. This would give the people a greater say in how they are governed. Somehow I suspect that the word “empower” used in their 2013 election material is not meant to encourage anyone to question what happened to participation and consultation since 1980.

Do I need to elaborate? I’ll watch for questions on The Zimbabwean’s Facebook page.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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