Plurality in media must improve national debate

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Zimbabweans are by and large pleased that the opening up of media space will witness four daily newspapers hit the streets of our towns.
As usual the rural population will not benefit from this development.
There are no newspaper stands in rural areas! Rural stores don’t usually sell newspapers. Considering that close to 70% of Zimbabwe’s population resides in rural communities, the failure by media houses to make available newspapers to the rural population is unfortunate, to put it mildly.
The opening up of media space can be celebrated in its own right as an event that must eventually lead to the normalisation of our country.
The plurality of opinions should be viewed as a source of strength and should not be feared as has been the case in the past few years.
As we celebrate the welcome development we need at the same time to raise fears about the culture of negative partisanship that has been created by contesting political philosophies in the country.
Thanks to Zanu PF’s scorched earth political tendencies, non-state media have tended sometimes to arrogate to themselves the role of defending, promoting and sometimes parroting the positions of parties opposed to Zanu PF —without critical analysis.
Just as the state newspapers are uncritical in extolling the virtues of Zanu PF, non-state newspapers tend to do the same, with respect to parties opposed to Zanu PF.
The level of debate has been so contaminated by partisanship to the extent that critical national issues do not receive the serious attention that they deserve.
For example, the non-state media have tended sometimes to blindly support American foreign policy without realising that the North or South divide is real and requires that we in the Third World engage in these debates vigorously in defence of our collective national interests.
As developing countries we suffer from unfair terms of global trade therefore we have legitimate national interests with respect to these matters.
The debate about the under-representation of Third World countries in United Nations institutions is a legitimate debate that should not be distorted by the fact that President Robert Mugabe has arrogated to himself the role of spokesperson on these matters.
The population of Zimbabwe is not likely to benefit intellectually if the next lot of newspapers that emerge merely takes sides in the current partisan divide.
We hope that there will be proper debate concerning the issue of land — beyond the Zanu PF mantra of “colonialists appropriated our land; we must take it by force”.
Surely the issues go beyond the simplified version that non-state newspapers promote, basically equating land ownership with productivity.
There are historical issues of equity and injustice that should be debated as we seek restorative justice with respect to the horrible events that have happened in the distant and recent past.
We hope the new crop of newspapers will locate the struggle for justice in Zimbabwe beyond the period when the MDC was formed and subsequent violations of human rights by Zanu PF and some state institutions.
We are aware of the debilitating effect that Zanu PF and Mugabe have had in our political discourse.
The effect has been to measure one’s political credentials on this basis of the extent to which one shouts anti-Mugabe slogans; surely we have to move beyond that.
Mugabe will soon leave the political scene. Is it only then that our current mediocre debates will cease?
Mugabe says: “I fought Ian Smith therefore am entitled to do as I please.”
The signs are already there, in the form of intolerance of political parties other than the one that non-state newspapers have anointed.
Signs are surfacing of non-state papers promoting a culture of entitlement by those parties they promote. The refrain is likely to be: “We fought against Zanu PF and Mugabe; we are entitled to do as we please.”
History has a nasty habit of repeating itself and those who do not learn lessons from history live to regret when yesterday’s victims become today’s perpetrators of injustice against those that hold opposing views.
Our newspapers will have to resist the temptation to join partisan struggles.
Whilst one cannot stop newspapers from supporting particular trends, views, values and visions, blind partisan support can be extremely destructive and harmful to nation building.
We look forward to the advent of newspapers that will reflect the intellectual maturity that our country desires.
We look forward to a reporting culture that moves away from the stereotyping that has been developed over the years. Hopefully. . .

l Tracy Mupfigwa is a
Bulawayo-based journalist writing in her own capacity