The Zanu PF regime has never been shy in exposing its true colours as far as its disdain and repulsion for anything symptomatic of democracy and free expression in its 41 years of ruinous and despotic rule.
Tendai Ruben Mbofana
The upsurge in calls for media practitioners to desist from political activism, and focus purely on journalism, leaves me wondering if those in power know what the key functions of this noble profession are.
Honestly, it becomes seriously worrisome when it appears as if those who have been entrusted with the supervision of the media in Zimbabwe, seem to be oblivious of its role.
They pretend to be irredeemable ignoramuses, yet Information deputy minister Kindness Paradza is a renowned journalist.
How else can one explain the recent statement by Paradza, during World Press Freedom Day commemorations, that journalists needed to desist from being political activists, or if they wanted to be activists, should leave the profession altogether.
I would have expected such sentiments to come from semi-literate overzealous party youth.
Let us start from the basics. On my first day at journalism school in 1997, we were asked several questions to ascertain our understanding of journalism, and the media’s role and operations.
One of the first things we learnt was that the media was the Fourth Estate.
In fact, I did not need to be told this at college, as I had already been writing social justice articles for the local media far back when I was doing Form 3 in 1989.
I then decided to receive formal training.
Nonetheless, the concept of the Fourth Estate refers to the Press and news media in their explicit capacity of advocacy and implicit ability to frame political issues. Although it is not formally recognised as part of a political system, it wields significant indirect social influence. It is regarded as a hypothetical fourth power in Zimbabwe, after the Executive, Parliament and Judiciary.
In other words, the media plays an oversight role to keep the other arms of government in check.
The media is not there to complement government as some obedient and subservient poodle but is expected to be the voice of the voiceless, and holds the ruling establishment accountable to the electorate.
This is opposed to what the Zimbabwe government would want everyone to believe.
Such brazen distortion of what the media stands for is what shocked me during my second stint at journalism school in 2004 when I decided to further my studies from a diploma to a degree.
I discovered that the Zimbabwe media studies curriculum had been gravely bastardised.
Instead of imparting knowledge as we were taught at diploma level, journalism had been turned to a shameless purveyor of propaganda.
Which is why despite performing exceptionally well, I was always at loggerheads with my lecturers, since my views were independent and were expressed without fear.
I was not prepared to compromise, no matter the consequences.
The media has a mandate to tell it as it is to those in power and never be used as a tool to cover up for the ruling elite’s oppression, corruption and mismanagement.
Hiding behind the concept of developmental media in order to shackle journalists into being docile and willing puppets does not work.
A country’s development is premised on a vibrant media that keeps a vigilant eye on corruption, repression, and mismanagement of public resources.
A country can never develop without economic, political and social emancipation.
Let us take a look at the colonial days in Zimbabwe.
My uncles, Philip WG Mbofana and Willie D Musarurwa were renowned and fearless journalists, who steadfastly stood against the settler regime, and its anti-people racist policies.
In fact, Musarurwa is buried at the National Heroes Acre today because of his political activism as a journalist.
If the government does not regard that as ethical, then it should come out in the open and declare that my uncles’ political activism as journalists was unacceptable and unethical. I dare them!
Therefore, it is the Zimbabwe media’s mandate to stand with the masses, not with the ruling elite.
Journalists should never act as regime or ruling party publicity officers.
They should not cover up their corruption, subjugation of the citizenry and gross incompetence.
Doing that would be a grave travesty of their mandate as the Fourth Estate, and also makes them accomplices to crimes that result in the suffering of the people.