Free media to win fight against corruption

If the government of Zimbabwe is serious about fighting corruption, then it must actively allow and promote community broadcasting media so that the fight against corruption can be as citizen-based as possible.

Opinion by Kudzai Kwangwari

If citizens are not taking part in this fight, chances of success are very slim. It is important that sharing of information between and within communities should not be difficult for an open society. In the same token, interaction between the State and citizens should be be promoted. Citizens wherever they are must not struggle to engage the State on any matter which affects society, including corruption, HIV and Aids, food shortages and other development initiatives. Thus, as long as the government is not embracing the media, especially electronic and broadcasting media as an important player in development, we will continue to fail as a nation where others achieve success undreamt of in the past.

The most visible and common characteristic of all countries doing well in the North or South is that they have embraced and supported this sector without pretending. Examples include South Africa, where there is an evidently flourishing community broadcasting media which is supported even by the government of the day. We have not heard the ruling party ANC in South Africa attacking and fighting the media as is happening in our country where the media has been the easiest and most convenient target of misguided politics.

As a result, South Africa’s fight against corruption is not as futile as ours. Here, the State frowns at the media and actually invests in gagging and fighting it as happened a few years ago when the government reportedly imported state-of–the art equipment from China so as to jam so-called regime change media outlets including Studio 7.

In countries where community broadcast media such as community radio is allowed, it provides convenient platforms where citizens are able to engage and challenge certain behaviours that promote corruption. Citizens are able to raise alarm and corrupt behaviour is reported as it happens. In our country, such platforms are limited or they are just non-existent. So if the State does not actively promote the flourishing of such community media, it is actually alienating its own citizenry. And if citizens are excluded from development work which is meant to benefit them, then one wonders whose development is it for and to who is the State answerable.

If the State is prepared to respect its citizenry and listen to it, then platforms which allow them (citizens) to participate and engage the State must be allowed to grow and flourish.

The best way to deal with scourges like corruption is to start from the grassroots where at local community level, citizens are allowed to monitor each other as well as promote non-corrupt behaviour in a set-up where whole communities become whistleblowers.

In the same vein, the government should desist from activities that criminalise free expression as is happening now. Pieces of legislation that negate the development of this sector must either be repealed or drastically amended. We are aware of the fact that where democracy is deficient, the media is usually the easiest and greatest casualty and if anyone wants to measure the level of democracy in a country, then they have to check how free the media is in that community.

In a country in an unfortunate situation where a child acquires a birth certificate corruptly, baptism certificate corruptly, an “O” level certificate with seven passed subjects when he/she sat for five only, gets a place at a higher learning institution corruptly, is employed in a corrupt way, and wants to serve the public in a corrupt way, the fight against corruption cannot be won with a “business-as-usual” approach.

So, the State must change its attitude towards the media to enable citizens to play a meaningful role in the development of their communities. Citizens are only able to do that if they are informed and they have platforms where they can freely express themselves. Community radio is such an integral part of a developing nation and it must not be an issue which is subjected to negotiation.

I don’t want to think that our government is afraid of the people that elected it. Otherwise, the government must work for the people on the basis of expressed needs by the people. That is why a vibrant broadcasting media is critical in any given society.

While we appreciate the licensing of two commercial radio stations in the past year, the three political parties in government must do more to promote community broadcasting. The operational environment must also be improved so that journalists doing their work must not exercise self-censorship at the expense of not only the noble profession, but the communities they seek to serve. We cannot, as citizens, be forced to beg or even negotiate for this basic human right of freedom of expression because it is an inalienable right which must be accorded to all citizens.

In conclusion, the State must allow free media, especially community broadcasting media, to play a role in the fight against corruption. The more than 200 lives lost on roads during the festive season could have been avoided with a free, vibrant and robust community media where citizens could engage the State and other authorities easily.

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