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Wednesday 1 May 2019

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John Masuku

Zimbabwean journalists have been urged to stick to basic news writing skills in order to avoid misleading the public or peddling fake news as authentic information. Veteran broadcaster John Masuku made these remarks ahead of this year’s commemorations of World Press Day on Friday. Masuku speaks with VOA Zimbabwe Service’s Gibbs Dube about this year’s theme c and media laws in Zimbabwe.

Gibbs Dube: We are commemorating World Press Freedom Day this Friday under the theme ‘Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation’. The focus is on democracy in times of fake news. What’s your take on disinformation and the circulation of fake news?

John Masuku: I’d like to encourage ourselves as media practitioners, journalists, to ensure that we are not the spreaders of fake news, because I’ve noticed that often times, on our platforms, on our chat groups, we tend to circulate fake news ourselves, instead of using the tools that we already know from our trade, in order to make sure that we sift all the fake news and only circulate amongst ourselves what is principle. So it is important that we play an important role as journalist to avert the spread of fake news.

Gibbs Dube: What do you think are the causative factors of journalists circulating fake news?

I think there are several factors, you know we are bored because the situation is never changing. We are also facing challenges in sustainability, and also, generally, the checks and balances that we were used to in the past, where we were proud of our profession as journalism, where people relied very much on us, we are now not taking that as seriously, and as a result, even some of our journalists are not writing stories after thorough research, so that it becomes very difficult to spread fake news.

You know if we run credible platforms people use them to verify if the facts are correct. So if something is spread out there, and you know if you check with VOA Studio 7, or if you check with the Voice of the People, you check with another platform, you get the correct information. But at times if we slacken in that direction, then there’ll be a lot of fake news coming from us.

So even encourage the membership organizations to continue what they’ve been doing, training journalists, and also retraining journalists and editors and running competition in order to create awareness about the danger of fake news, especially amongst ourselves as journalists and society as a whole.

Gibbs Dube: Now, in terms of laws, the government is saying that is actually transforming or dumping Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and other stringent laws. So what do you think the government will come out with? There are some fears obviously the coming laws may be worse than AIPPA, and others. What’s your take on that?

I think we should be involved. We should have full participation in everything that is being drafted or crafted, so that we don’t cry foul in future, when these laws are not in our favor. So now that the pronouncements have been made, and these laws are being changed, let’s write about them, let’s discuss them in our various programs, lets’ challenge them even through parliament, even though the ministry of information, let us be involved.

We have a tendency to leaving these to other parties and then when the laws are enacted, that’s when we write screaming headlines to say that we’ve been taken by surprise, we didn’t know what was going on and so forth. So I encourage ourselves as journalists that we are really following all that is taking place and also writing about it, so that there is no foul play as it were.

So as things stand right now, who is involved? Are we involved through our membership organizations? If we are not, let us be involved. Are we involved in writing about these issues that you are talking about? And not only talk about the fears, but let’s also talk about the content. What is it that is being changed from, to? Because others don’t even know what was there before, the content of the old, the draconian content that we’ve been always crying foul about, so we have to understand where we are coming from, and where we are going to and what advantage that has got for us as journalists.

So I really urge fellow journalists, fellow media practitioners that we be in it, and not only go by hearsay that this is going to happen, that government is going to do this, when we don’t have the facts on our fingertips.

FILE - Young men surf the internet at a cyber cafe on June 20, 2012, in Nairobi, Kenya.

When authorities in Benin turned off the country’s internet during parliamentary elections Sunday, they became the ninth African government to restrict access this year.

The outages last hours or days and may target specific services — or the entire internet.

Governments don’t often explain the outages, but when they do, they focus on the need for security and civil order. The shutdowns usually accompany protests, demonstrations and elections.

But data from The NetBlocks Group, a nonpartisan organization that tracks global internet freedom and monitors outages, indicate the serious economic and social impacts of even a short outage.

‘A blunt violation’

In Benin, a one-day shutdown costs the country $1.54 million, according to data compiled by NetBlocks and The Internet Society, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization focused on internet freedom.

In more populous nations, such as Ethiopia, those numbers can climb five times higher, even while internet adoption rates remain relatively low.

Benin’s outage lasted 15 hours and encompassed all internet services, including social media, according to NetBlocks.

Press freedom and human rights groups, meanwhile, continue to sound alarms about the impact of internet outages on journalists’ abilities to gather and report news.

“The decision to shut down access to the Internet and social media on an election day is a blunt violation of the right to freedom of expression,” François Patuel, Amnesty International’s West Africa researcher, wrote Sunday.

Gatekeepers

Citizens gain access to the internet via an internet service provider, or ISP. Each ISP acts as a gatekeeper to the internet, providing its subscribers access, but also, potentially, cutting them off.

In Africa, countries tend to have just one or two ISPs. For regimes intent on control, few ISPs makes it easier to turn off the entire internet for most of the population.

In contrast, thousands of ISPs provide access in the United States; shutting off the internet would require broad coordination, and cooperation across each independent organization.

In Africa, though, authorities often have an easy time controlling one or two state-owned ISPs. And governments have capitalized on that.

So far this year, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Mali and Zimbabwe have restricted internet access, according to Amnesty International. NetBlocks has observed additional disruptions in Algeria, Sudan and Egypt since January.

Freedom of expression

Journalists rely on internet access to do their work, and they tend to feel the effects of shutdowns more acutely.

Even partial outages can affect reporters’ abilities to communicate with sources, monitor events as they unfold and share news with audiences, in their countries and beyond.

Blocking internet access can affect freedom to assemble alongside freedom of expression. Protesters in Africa, and around the world, often use social media to organize.

But for governments experiencing tumultuous transfers of power, the internet can introduce unwanted volatility.

Most of the countries that have experienced outages this year, as in years past, have restricted access during elections or in the midst of protests and unrest.

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