Surveys to measure credibility of Zimbabwe’s media outlets — both print and broadcast — are very rare, hence journalists often get away with murder.
Advertisers and consumers of media products have been forced to rely on surveys that purport to measure the reach of different outlets, which appear too compromised to give a fair assessment of the media landscape.
Outlets that are known to have lost credibility years ago for pandering to the whims of the establishment and throwing journalism ethics out of the window continue to be propped up by these surveys as leaders in the field. However, signs that there is rising mistrust of the news media, in general and State media in particular have been difficult to hide.
The void has finally been filled by the ground-breaking survey by the Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe (MMPZ) that investigated the “believability, reliability, ethical lapses, newsgathering techniques and news presentation of Zimbabwe’s mainstream media, both print and electronic”.
The Media Credibility Index report released on Tuesday covered a two-month period from August 1 to September 30 and the survey assessed all the front page stories published in the newspapers and top stories aired both on TV and radio stations.
It involved monitoring and analysing the content and credibility of all stories published on the front pages of the newspapers monitored and those billed in the broadcast media, MMPZ explained. The survey, which monitored 10 national news outlets, rated NewsDay the best with a rating of 87% because of its balanced coverage of political and governance issues.
NewsDay was followed by its sister publication The Standard (83%) and the Zimbabwe Independent (80%) that were rated second and third respectively.
That all the three newspapers fall under the Alpha Media Holdings (AMH) stable speaks volumes about the group’s guiding principles, but also raises a lot of questions about surveys that continue to tell us that the State media is still ahead of the pack.
Incredibly the partisan Sunday Mail, which was voted the country’s media super brand for this year, was ranked last in terms of credibility with a score of 38% while The Herald (54%) was placed at eighth. When it comes to the measurement of readership by the Zimbabwe All-Media Products Survey (Zamps), AMH has insisted on the use of audited circulation figures instead of using instruments that are difficult to measure.
The MMPZ has proven that credible media surveys are possible in Zimbabwe and must be emulated. Attempts to use poorly executed media surveys to influence advertisers must become a thing of the past. The survey established that there were profound journalistic flaws in the way the media treats top stories with many newspapers often resorting to sensational and misleading headlines to increase their reach.
Media plays a critical role in any society and journalists and their media outlets owe it to their fellow citizens to remain credible.