HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsThings can be wrong on so many levels

Things can be wrong on so many levels

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Never ruin an apology with an excuse.
Last week on Thursday, The Herald published this retraction with the headline “Matter of Fact”:

“In a story entitled ‘MP calls for bedroom sanctions’ published in the Chronicle on Tuesday November 1, 2011, and reproduced in The Herald, we quoted MDC secretary-general Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga as blasting people from Matabeleland for lacking political ambition.

“We erroneously quoted her as saying: ‘Something is wrong with people from this region. Why do you always fight to be deputies for Shonas? Look at Khupe, the MDC-T deputy president has lost all her hair fighting to be Tsvangirai’s deputy.’

“These words were never said by Mrs Misihairabwi-Mushonga and we unreservedly apologise for the anguish and anxiety that this might have caused her.

In fact, these words were uttered by Mrs Thandiwe Mlilo, the chairperson of the MDC Women Assembly, at the party’s rally at Magwegwe Hall in Bulawayo. — Editor.”

The next day, I was put or put myself in such a situation as The Herald found itself in, depending on how one looks at it. I reproduced in NewsDay what The Herald had reproduced from the Chronicle.

Newspapers across the globe regularly quote or cite from each other, but it only becomes an issue when one gets it wrong, when one has been led up the garden path. One can get a story idea from another paper, even a rival one. It’s always right — until it gets wrong.

I wrote a piece in which I took Misihairabwi-Mushonga to task based on what has since been proved to be false attribution of the above statements to her, but hadn’t seen The Herald retraction by the time of going for publication around noon on Thursday.

On Friday morning, MDC Bulawayo Province secretary for information Edwin Ndlovu sent me an email titled “Conway Tutani got it all wrong”, accusing me of writing the article basing my argument on a story which had later been retracted.

I promptly replied him thus: “Noted. I will make a full retraction not only as a professional, but in all fairness to Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga as an individual.

Yes, I should have cross-checked with you — and will do so in the future. For your information, I did not ‘run away with the Chronicle story’, as you allege.

The article could have been removed from the paper, but that wasn’t possible at that point in time because NewsDay is printed in sections and the section with that article had already been fully printed.

The Northern Edition of NewsDay carried an apology, but the Southern Edition did not as it is printed much earlier. Had you cross-checked with Misihairabwi-Mushonga last night, you would be in the know. Yes, we all need to cross-check — from media practitioners to politicians.

“If I may verify with you, was it actually MDC Women Assembly chairperson Thandiwe Mlilo who said: ‘Look at Khupe, the MDC-T deputy president has lost all her hair fighting to be Tsvangirai’s deputy’? as alleged in The Herald’s retraction?”

Yes, the devil is in the detail; ignore some “small” detail and you are in for big trouble later on. Every word, sentence and paragraph in a retraction is important. Ignore that small detail in print and you get caught out.

Party spokespersons should fill in the gaps without being prompted or asked if they are to be effective firefighters. They mustn’t behave like a company which hides investment losses to shareholders. They should articulate issues as they are and have happened.

They should not blame the media for presenting bad news about a favoured cause, person, organisation, etc. Some of the personal attacks on me last week are better left unsaid.

The fact remains that “shooting the messenger may be a time-honoured emotional response to unwelcome news, but it is not a very effective method of remaining well-informed”. Getting rid of the messenger may also be a tactical move; but the danger is that a culture of non-disclosure may follow any hostile response to negative feedback.

“People learn very quickly where this is the case, and will studiously avoid giving any negative feedback; thus the ‘Emperor’ continues with the self-delusion
. . . obviously this is not a recipe for success”.

Ndlovu then texted me on Monday: “Affirmative!”
Did I get it all wrong? Far from it. When one sticks to facts as reported and deals with issues arising therefrom, they don’t get completely lost.

At the risk of being accused of making a half-hearted apology, there are usually two sides to a story — and in this case there were.

The retraction cut both ways in that it cleared Misihairabwi-Mushonga of the utterances, but at the same time revealed that this was not a complete fabrication, that these words were actually spoken by someone else — Mlilo.

This was not a reality show, but reality. This was said within the confines of an official party meeting. Inevitably such quotes find their way into the Press and damage is done.

Was it a petulant quip by Mlilo? Even if we downplay it as such, it made its way into the media and there was no way it would have gone uncommented upon — it’s now in the public domain.

The questions/issues I raised last week still stand, but are now directed to Mlilo. You are held to what you say. That’s part of the political process. If you make off-colour remarks, you pay a price for it. Yes, this entails more hard questions to answer for Mlilo, reopening the whole saga in view of her seniority in the party.

Whoever wins the next election is going to set the template for this country for a long time to come. Things are moving fast day to day. That’s why all parties should be put under intense scrutiny.

In the same way it behoves me to apologise to Misihairabwi-Mushonga unreservedly, it also behoves the MDC to show its hand because what was said is wrong on so many levels.

I hereby retract all wrongful references I made to Misihairabwi-Mushonga last week.

ctutani@newsday.co.zw

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