Time to stop mischief of bashing under guise of reporting

Echoes: CONWAY TUTANI

IN the first analysis and final analysis, newspapers — in spite of and despite their editorial slant — should — and must — be guided by accuracy. Accuracy is the be-all and end-all.

“What a newspaper needs in its news, in its headlines, and on its editorial page is terseness, humour, descriptive power, satire, originality, good literary style, clever condensation — and accuracy, accuracy, accuracy!” observed Joseph Pulitzer (1847-1911), an American journalist and publisher, who was committed to raising the standards of the journalism profession. The Pullitzer Prize, named after him, has become the standard measure of journalistic integrity and excellence.

This week, there was this headline from Zimmorningpost.com: “Nyagura forced out after 40 years on the job”.

It cannot get more grossly misleading than that and it’s the complete opposite of accuracy as it gives the wrong impression that Levi Nyagura joined the University of Zimbabwe as vice-chancellor 40 years ago and remained vice-chancellor for all the 40 years he was at the University of Zimbabwe. The facts of the matter are that Nyagura rose through the ranks and was only vice-chancellor for about 15 of those 40 years.

This is shoddy and shallow journalism written “intellectual bankruptcy” all over it. Such headlines would certainly make Pullitzer turn in his grave because he was fastidious and uncompromosing on accuracy. People, in turn, ought to read whatever they come across with open and discerning minds so as not to appear as stupid as those who post such distortions on social media which are calculated to project everything in Zimbabwe as dysfunctional and rotten to the core when that is far from the case.

The fact that Nyagura is in court for his alleged role in the awarding of a fake PhD to former First Lady Grace Mugabe shows Zimbabwe’s institutions and systems are very much functional, not to mention that she could have pressurised him because she is overbearing by nature.

And such allegations are not unique to Zimbabwe. In the United States, between 2011 and 2018, $25 million in bribes were paid by people looking to sneak around the usual university admittance process. The scandal was only unearthed in March 2019. This drove famed Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz to remark: “This is the worst scandal involving elite universities in the history of the United States. This is really one of the great scandals of the 21st Century. Having said that, I just think it’s just the tip of the iceberg.” As one can see, there is need to debunk with facts and figures such Euro-centric myths that everything in the West is rosy. Such metaphors which forged the political and socio-economic relationships of colonialism are coming back in the self-abasement language of some journalists. As South African academic Eusebius McKaiser has observed, people can be racist against their own kind, meaning you can be racist against yourself without realising it. And those journalists submitting to this Eurocentrism are perpetuating this colonial mentality.

Last week MDC vice-president Elias Mudzuri also had to refute a report alleging that he had thrown in his lot with party leader Nelson Chamisa ahead of the MDC‘s elective congress. Mudzuri said: “Today’s @DailyNewsZim (April 6, 2019) carries a story headed ‘Chamisa cuts deal . . . as he secures Mudzuri’s backing‘. The reading public is advised that the story is false, mischievous and intended to deceive. No deals of any kind have been entered into between @nelsonchamisa and myself.”

The report proved to be a complete fabrication, all because they don’t exercise due diligence when it comes to their favoured choice because they always want to project that individual as infallible and unstoppable. If you have to take sides, the least you can do is to be factual and truthful about it.

But only two days later, the same paper was back to its ways. Old habits die hard. They had a story with the headling “First Lady charters pricey plane to Dubai”. Well, they had to issue a humiliating public apology the next day never mind that it was hidden under a deceptive-sounding headline “Getting it right”, saying: “It has since come to our attention that First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa did not, in fact, charter the plane . . . While we never intended to characterise the First Lady and the First Family as profligate, we nevertheless readily accept that our report was wrong and unfair as we did not verify all the facts pertinent to the story before going to print. In that regard, we apologise unreservedly to President Emmerson Mnangagwa and the First Lady for the inconvenience caused and the aspersions cast by our article.”

Such highly-toxic and damaging complete fabrications are caused by lack of objectivity and over-eagerness to push a certain agenda that some people just cannot let the truth ruin or spoil what is to them a good story or advantageous lie. It’s scandalous that some newspapers can go out of their way to misinform and disinform like that. Readers, the rule or test to apply is: “If it sounds too good to be true, then it’s not true.” British newspaper The Guardian has taken proactive steps to help prevent the spread of misinformation online. The Guardian noticed that an article from 2013 was being shared in Facebook groups as if it was a new story in order to mislead people and ignite outrage.

It’s that ill-disposition of mind that is behind the screaming headlines from some sections of the media bashing and ridiculing Finance minister Mthuli Ncube’s Transitional Stabilisation Programme (TSP). “Foreign policy simply cannot be judged by today’s headlines that chalk up victories and defeats like so many box scores in the sports sections of newspapers,” said former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice exasperated with the media masquerading as all-knowing.

Similarly, the two-year TSP cannot be judged by today’s headlines in the sports sections of newspapers that rattle off victories and defeats in just the 90 minutes that a football match is played. Ncube has his own deadlines which are different from newspaper printing deadlines. And Ncube is nothing like the cartoon figure that some newspapers are making him to be. “Sometimes you have to play the role of a fool to fool the fools who think they are fooling you,” the saying goes.

Such mendaciousness or untruthfulness can be attributed to a certain mental disposition, an attitude of mind that favours one side over the other and, by extension, that is ill-disposed towards that other side. This negative attitude of the other side can even worsen to the toxic and hateful extent of being malicious and malevolent to that side.
That Zimbabwean newspaper has the democratic right to side with the opposition, but to go on to fabricate in a manner calculated to make people angry on the basis of total lies is crossing the line.

As one can see, this is not reporting at all — it’s naked bashing, or, as they say in Shona, kurakasha. This mischief has to be stopped.
Accuracy, accuracy, accuracy!

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