The quality of news reporting in Zimbabwe has steadily declined since 2000, thanks to political interference, polarization, corruption and other challenges, according to an assessment from a report compiled by the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ).
The report, entitled “The State of Journalism Ethics in Zimbabwe,” is based on confidential interviews with a number of Zimbabwean journalists and media professionals. It found a serious drop of professionalism and disregard of ethics by Zimbabwean journalists.
The report blames this largely on interference by politicians. In 2000, it says, the Zanu-PF government wanted to counter the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), as the party was gaining popularity.
Largely through former Information Minister Jonathan Moyo, the government instructed state journalists what stories to write and how to write them, and used legal and extra-legal means to discipline privately-owned media critical of its policies.
As other political leaders started seeing the media as either patriotic or treasonous, they began to speak only to those media outlets they support. That made it extremely difficult for media houses to adhere to the journalistic principles of balance and fairness, accuracy, and independence.
While conditions improved in the first years of the unity government, the report says interparty tensions ahead of the 2013 elections changed that. It quotes a sub-editor at the Herald newspaper saying in June this year that the newspaper was instructed that any photo of MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai published in the newspaper needed to “depict him in a state of confusion.”
VMCZ’s ethics committee chairman and veteran journalist, Tapfuma Machakaire told VOA Studio 7 that his committee monitored five publications during the run-up to elections, and agrees with the findings of the report.
The report also highlights the taking of bribes as rampant among journalists in both the private and state media, adding that some journalists at ZTV revealed that they regularly receive bribes in exchange for positive coverage of certain prominent people.
The report says although news websites and radio stations like SW Radio, Radio VOP, and the Voice of America’s Studio 7 have provided alternative spaces for the expression of other views besides official ones, they often articulate what the report calls “a narrow regime change agenda, more to win the favour of their funders than to promote democracy and active citizenship in Zimbabwe.”
The report also alleges that some stories by overseas journalists are sensational.
Programs officer Loughty Dube said VMCZ commissioned the report over its concern about the decline of professionalism in the media, and the growing appearance of what he calls hate speech.
Dube said the findings of the report will help VMCZ formulate programs that can be used to restore professionalism among journalists.
VMCZ promotes professionalism and self-regulation of the media industry.
The VMCZ launched its report in Gweru Monday. It was written by Wallace Chuma, a media studies lecturer at the University of Cape Town.
Zenzele Ndebele of Bulawayo’s Radio Dialogue said there is chaos in the Zimbabwe media as some journalists demand payment for covering stories and in some cases outright bribery.
“Those journalists in the state-controlled media do not write anything positive about the opposition and media practitioners working for independent newspaper don’t even criticize the opposition. For example, if independent journalists criticize criticize Morgan Tsvangirai and Welshman Ncube, they are labeled traitors, Zanu PF functionaries or operatives of the Central Intelligence Organization,” said Ndebele.