Time to revisit the IMPI report.

ONE of South Africa’s leading digital newspapers — Daily Maverick — staged a symbolic shut down Monday to highlight the crisis confronting journalism.

ONE of South Africa’s leading digital newspapers — Daily Maverick — staged a symbolic shut down Monday to highlight the crisis confronting journalism.

As consumer tastes shift, the printed newspaper is under threat, and traditional broadcasters are in trouble. It is a worldwide experience, but it is being felt more in economically troubled countries like Zimbabwe, where millions cannot afford a newspaper. Journalism is in a state of emergency, Daily Maverick warned. Naturally, it is government and industries that have the power to save the Fourth Estate from obliteration.

This is important in building the democracy that we all yearn for. Exposing corruption and holding power to account is a critical element.

Daily Maverick highlighted cross cutting issues where media can play a crucial role, such as propping up economies by ensuring businesses have access to accurate and timeous information. As a business journalist myself, I know that in the world of business, knowledge is power.

The information that business executives acquire from college is mostly basic. The real practical issues and knowledge come from specialist business publications. They tackle issues affecting companies and the economy, and try to give perspectives.

This is not confined to Zimbabwe alone — business publications across the world play this role. A nation can only be as good as its media. Yet today, this vital role is under threat. The media is at the crossroads. I liked the potential solutions that the Maverick put forward, that it is within governments’ power to address these headwinds.

Tax relief and duty exemptions will go a long way in addressing the expenses the media face.

“Advertising, which once sustained a large part of the industry, is now directed mostly to foreign-based technology platforms,” it said.

“And not enough readers are supporting our newsrooms to fund the size of newsrooms required to fulfil our public service mandate. Unfortunately, most of the public and business community still don’t appreciate the full extent of the news media crisis.”

Zimbabwe’s government has more than a general view of what is happening.

It was fully briefed through the Information Media Panel of Inquiry, or IMPI a decade ago. IMPI was an expensive undertaking that took views across provinces and compiled a thoughtful report. The IMPI contains more information and recommendations than what the Maverick proffered. But today the voluminous document is gathering dust, without implementation.

If the IMPI report had been implemented, some of the problems that confront the media today would have been addressed. I am not surprised that it has been relegated to the dustbin.

Zimbabwe’s rulers see media freedom as a threat. They would rather navigate in the darkness, away from the public glare of their misdeeds instead of propping up a troublesome Fourth Estate.

“Democracy Dies in Darkness” is the official slogan of the American newspaper The Washington Post. So do civilisations I would add.

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