Prophet journalism: Where do we draw the line?

At the end of each year, most people take stock of the past 365 days, looking at what they did and what they could do better in the coming year.

As the media, one of our biggest selling points has to be stories about prophets and their prophesies, some contentiously accurate, others wide off the mark.

“Prophet journalism” has been a controversial issue in the past year, with many querying the accuracy and objectiveness — themselves cornerstones of ethical journalism — of some of these stories.

While there has been an overwhelming response to preachers’ stories, the question is: Where do we draw the line between ethical journalism and what our readers want?

With Zimbabwe’s economy continuously hurtling on a downward trend, it is inevitable that people will resort to religion, as that is where they will get hope for either a better future or after-life.


As evidenced by people flocking to either prophets Walter Magaya or Emmanuel Makandiwa’s sermons, religion is now big in Zimbabwe and with it comes many opportunities.

At the risk of crossing the unpronounced ethical line, media houses, both electronic and print, have benefited from this religious frenzy, as their audiences grow each time there has been a prophecy.

However, of late there has been a number of fanciful and fantastical prophesies, some run by newspapers, which are, at the least, outrageous.

Bulawayo preacher Blessing Chiza has made a name for himself for making prophecies, but he has been off the mark far more than he has been accurate.

Preachers like Makandiwa and Magaya have also made vague forecasts, yet their popularity continues to soar.

There are number of Malawian prophets who have predicted President Robert Mugabe’s death, but so far they have been all wrong, yet such stories continue to be the most popular in most media outlets and with vast audiences.

There have also been popular stories like “miracle money”, while another preacher dished out “anointed condoms” without any hint of irony whatsoever.

This is the conundrum newspapers, including NewsDay, face. There is a market eager to read what popular prophets like TB Joshua say, but also, how do we prove the accuracy of their prophesies in advance?

We have nothing against prophets, but the basic tenets of journalism dictate that a story should have at least three sources for it to pass the accuracy test, yet in all these religious stories there is only one source — the prophet — and what they say can neither be proved nor disproved.

It is difficult to predict what route prophesies will take in the coming year, but it is time we took stock of how we report on prophet stories and how the readers have embraced them.

The dilemma that media houses face now is to reduce the prophet stories and lose a significant market, or keep them and have readers flocking in. Either way, this is the difficult position we find ourselves in.

At the end of the day, our wish is to provide accurate, balanced and objective news and as we take stock of last year and move into 2016, we hope to improve on these fronts.

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