Is local journalism victim of political decay?

In February 2007 Mozambique was once again hit by floods. Media reports were suggesting that over 100 000 people were affected. I only landed in Beira two weeks after the Zambezi River burst its banks displacing thousands of families.

Report by Tapiwa Gomo

Anyone who has worked in the disaster management sector will tell you that deployment two weeks after such a disaster is surely a sign of inefficiency. As I landed in Beira, most journalists were packing their bags ready to return to their bases. Of course, the few that I knew wondered how I dared come when the drama was already over.

I informed them that the real drama had not yet started as Cyclone Favio was fast approaching the Mozambique coastline putting Beira on the line.

I shared with so much confidence the projected impact, the places where the cyclone would make a landfall and how much destruction it would cause inland.

By the time I finished what I thought was a simple discussion with one or two colleagues, I was surrounded by a few journalists listening to my projection of events.

To confirm doubts exhibited on their faces, one South African journalist interjected stating that Zimbabweans had become highly opinionated and creative with the truth which had made it impossible to believe their stories.

I defended my case, but he also did the same with his. He blamed the political situation and the polarisation of the society in Zimbabwe and the desperation which has made most people exaggerate even when it is not necessary.

He heralded stories of asylum seekers in South Africa, fake journalists were claimed to be on the CIO hit list even when they had never written any traceable story and fly-by-night political activists who claimed to have lost their property because of political violence.

He didn’t doubt that there was political violence in Zimbabwe at the time, but he felt the situation was exaggerated and credibility of certain stories had to be checked before going to print. In his view, we not to be trusted.

Reading through the events of last week, I seem to think this journalist, somehow had a point.

Creative writing is no longer about the art of wordsmith and passing a message or news in a delicious and artistic way without tampering with the truth.

In fact, the truth itself seems to have lost its space in some of these stories, especially those to do with politics and politicians.

The story of the reshuffle in the Prime Minister’s office took centre-stage last week. And it once again demonstrated why our media, both private and public, cannot be trusted even with a simple story such as reassignment of personnel.

We were told the Elizabeth Macheka was on a warpath causing the Prime Minister to fire everyone alleged to have played a part in their marriage debacle.

The stories were backed by what seemed to be credible details of the role of the each of the alleged victims of the PM’s purging played in his marriage fiasco.

We were told that what was thought to be a CIO-scripted marriage drama was actually written from the Prime Minister’s Office by his most trusted man.

Behind all the stories, were nameless and faceless insiders which made the whole story unnewsworthy, speculative and damaging to the images of everyone involved. It would have made an interesting story if interests of those unnamed sources in blackmailing Elizabeth had been interviewed.

Sadly, this yellow journalistic practice is allowed to prevail unquestioned. Political analysts, who are supposed to interrogate details of a story, were roped in to provide commentary and validation on a story which was based on speculation and unrealistic facts.

Common sense, though sometimes rare, dictates that the hiring or firing of civil servants such as James Maridadi does not lie within the scope of the PM. When it happened last time, it caused a lot of embarrassment to the Prime Minister’s Office.

Secondly, some of the office bearers in his office are political deployments — the PM can only reassign without firing them. Elizabeth was presented as a monstrous super-powerful and power-hungry woman who had not only won the PM from Locardia, but has control over his political and government decisions.

We read a new Elizabeth who was full of vengeance, anger and hate and would stop at nothing in her pursuit for the reshuffling agenda.

One could not help but pity the PM for being overrun by his new wife.

The stories showed a weak, helpless and different Tsvangirai from the one we know, the one who successfully fought Zanu PF to the extent that while they were allocating land, they also allocated him office space in their leader’s office. It presented Tsvangirai as a new puppet to his new wife and as a dictator to his senior party members, who he can hire and fire willy-nilly.

Given, Elizabeth may be a powerful woman, surely her power cannot transcend systems and structures of both the MDC-T and the government!

1 Comment

  1. What proof do you have that it wasn’t so? We all know about the sensationalism that has beset Zimbabwe such that we no longer have journalists but political activists posing as journalists. All stables unfortunately display this tendency with no exception in equal measure. Since around 2000 with the coming on board of a certain daily paper polarisation within Zimbabwean society has reached alarming heights. It started with fake stories like that of a soldier buried without a head by a certain journalist. Then we had the one by a certian basil guy which makes what the SA journalist said about Zimbabweans irrefutably true. I tend to read all the Zim papers but I have come accross a lot of people who do not read one paper or another but only read a certain paper because of which political party they support. I do sympathise with them a lot given the sensationalism with which things are reported.

    The Tsvangirai issue was carried out clandestinly and without clarity. Whenever the president moves people around in his office, an appropriate announcement is always made. However, the clandestine nature in which these people were reassigned or fired depending on who is talking leaves room for such speculative reporting. We know that the Makones were fingered in the Locardia fiasco back in November 2011.

    The timing of the reassignment soon after another Locardia fiasco and the non-wedding of the PM to Eliza gives more credence to her exerting pressure on the PM to wield the axe. Had an appropriate announcent been made rather than a reaction then we would not have had speculation of that nature.

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