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Selection of gukurahundi journalists opaque and dodgy

by Staff reporter
28 Feb 2024 at 06:44hrs | Views
A group of local Zimbabwean journalists, whose selection has been clearly opaque and dodgy, are grappling with how media should cover the upcoming Gukurahundi outreach programme hearings into the 1980s massacres of innocent civilians in the Matebeleland and Midlands provinces by the Zanu-PF regime under the late former president Robert Mugabe.

Incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa and many other senior Zanu-PF leaders as well as key state security services officials have been accused of spearheading the killings now classified by experts as genocide.

Gukurahundi, which is divisive, remains a deep scar on the conscience of the nation, fuelling polarisation and toxicity across many divides.

Humans rights groups say at least 20 000 were killed by the North Korean-trained Five Brigade commanded mostly by the late minister Perrence Shiri.

As the public hearings, which are ironically sponsored by the government run by the perpetrators, get closer, journalists drawn from selected media houses met in Bulawayo yesterday to finalise a draft of standard operating procedures (SOPs) for Gukurahundi hearings expected to start soon.

This was their second meeting on that issue in as many weeks.

The journalists discussed a draft document done by the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC), a constitutional accreditation and regulatory body, into how to cover the Gukurahundi process "responsibly".

ZMC has arbitrarily appointed itself the referee in the process, which is an operational matter among journalists and not a regulatory and accreditation issue.

With its history of being an instrument of control by the state and less for reform, ZMC's role of suspicious and creepy.

An unrepresentative "technical committee" constituted without broad consultations, which includes journalists Victoria Ruzvidzo (Sunday Mail), Nduduzo Tshuma (The Chronicle), Zenzele Ndebele (CITE), Annahstacia Ndlovu (Voice of America), Albert Chekai (ZBC), Cris Chinaka (ZimFact) and Monica Cheru (ZimNow), is working with ZMC on the issue.

ZMC, which primarily registers media organisations and accredits journalists, was represented by its executive secretary Godwin Phiri and two commissioners, Aleck Ncube and Tanaka Muganyi.

Tellingly, organised representative media bodies and associations have not been consulted, which renders the whole process practically illegitimate and an exercise in futility.

The ZMC Gukurahundi Outreach Reporting Guide says it seeks to "grapple with challenges reporting responsibly on Gukurahundi and other national matters now and in the future".

The draft adds it seeks "to provide guidance to media practitioners as they cover the programme that is being rolled out by the National Chief's Council".

It also says "practitioners recognise the need to bring closure to a period that has remained unresolved and thus impacting national cohesion. In order to ensure that the media practitioners ethically and professionally cover the event, this guideline has been developed".  

The guide will be supported by a training programme "to empower" media practitioners that will cover the community outreach, it further says.

While ZMC says its major focus is promotion and protection of freedom of expression and the media; and promotion of accountable governance through facilitating public access to information held by public entities for the purposes of transparency, accountability and protection of human rights, its attempt to control how the Gukurahundi hearings are covered does not promote access to information, freedom of expression, transparency and accountability; values it claims to stand for and uphold.

In the process of yesterday's meeting, several controversial issues emerged during a debate among journalists.

Journalists, for instance, grappled with a strange proposal that victims of Gukurahundi must sign a consent form before media could cover their stories.

There was also the issue of whether journalists should use the word genocide to refer to Gukurahundi in their coverage.

This is ultimately an underhanded attempt to control of the process and narrative.

Some journalists rejected the issue of consent forms as a strange approach to media reporting. Professional journalists cannot support that.

The issue of trying to reinvent the wheel invites bureaucracy, gatekeeping and censorship into the opaque process.

There are already established media ethical codes, editorial charters and bodies supervising journalists to guide the process.

What is needed now is an opportunity for journalists to refresh their minds on basic ethics and conflict-sensitive reporting, with specific references to this issue.

So the ZMC and its committee are right on the issue of conflict-sensitive reporting.

Conflict sensitive journalism empowers reporters to cover conflicts professionally without inflaming the situation.

It enables journalists to report  conflicts in depth, to cover all sides and allow ventilation of issues related to the conflict.

The approaches and methods of conflict-sensitive journalism, as opposed to conventional journalism, allows media to inform the public more objectively and accurately.

On the matter of using the word genocide, ZMC and committee want to gaslight the media and the public - journalists should be guided by facts and the truth before any subjective considerations.

Experts say Gukurahundi was a genocide, so journalists don't have to debate or ask anyone for permission to call Gukurahundi a genocide.

The term "genocide" is generally presumed to have a similar impact on global attention, indicating the crime that stands above all others. Coined in 1944 by the Polish-Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin, as the horrors of the Holocaust came to light, it does not refer to mere mass killings of individuals but rather to the attempted erasure or decimation of a people.

The UN Genocide Convention, which has been ratified by over three quarters of the world's countries, defines genocide as "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group".

Such acts include killings, "serious bodily or mental harm", the deliberate infliction of "conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction", and trying to prevent births or taking away children.

There are several lessons to be drawn from other experiences elsewhere, for example from Rwanda in particular, many of which can be gleaned from a collection of papers and reflections from journalists and academics titled The Media and the Rwanda Genocide.

One is the need for reporters to familiarise themselves and their audiences with the history and context of the conflict.

This is important for stories to properly inform audiences and stop inflaming the situation.

The responsibility of the ethical journalist extends beyond simply acknowledging that a genocide may be happening or happened - which is factuality; it goes deeper in search of the truth.

Journalists should give victims dignity when retelling their excruciating experiences, while at the same time denying audiences the comfort of ignorance and perpetrators the conspiracy of silence and complicity.

This is important given how the state-controlled media, whose representatives are part of the committee, was part of the problem during Gukurahundi.

Media must now play a positive role in the process and avoid being part of the problem as it was during the 1980s.

Studies of how state media covered Gukurahundi can't be ignored during this process.

On accreditation, accrediting only selected journalists to cover Gukurahundi is a serious violation of media freedom and other important journalistic rights.

Anyone already accredited by ZMC to practice journalism in Zimbabwe should automatically be allowed to cover the process.

Selecting a few individuals restricts coverage and limits of freedom of media to cover the issue.

Accreditation of journalists during elections, for instance, is not about control of coverage of the polls, but access to certain places and information.

Similarly, journalists should be accredited separately only if they want special access to this process, but not to be the only ones exclusively allowed to cover the story.

With the process already deeply flawed as chiefs and their few allies alone simply do not have the intellectual and technical capacity to conduct such a complex and vast process, the issue of trying to manage media and journalists just makes the whole situation a lot worse.

By foreclosing truth-telling, accountability and justice as the premise of the process, authorities have already rendered it a sham.

It can only be rescued by being open, transparent, inclusive  and justice-driven, not being more opaque and dodgy.

The deputy president of the National Council of Chiefs led by Chief Mtshane Khumalo, Chief Fortune Charumbira, says media and security services should be barred from the hearings.

While barring security forces, who are the perpetrators of the atrocities in the first place is understandable, there is no sound rationale and logic to bar media and journalists from the process.

After all some journalists have been covering Gukurahundi stories for decades since the 1990s; nothing new will come up beyond the already known accounts of fascist cruelty, brutality and barbarism - the degrading beatings, torture, mass executions, rape, crushing of children, displacements, vandalism of property and ethnic cleansing - which characterised the massacres, except detail.

As for ZMC and its committee, conflict-sensitive reporting workshops are fine and useful, but not its underhand attempt to curtail media freedom and run a cartel of "Gukurahundi journalists" with special access than others through an opaque, dubious and dodgy process with no consultations and legitimacy among various stakeholders.

If it stands a chance to succeed, the already flawed process - inevitably poised to yield a flawed outcome as it is - must at least be open, transparent, inclusive and be about discovering and revealing wrongs of the past in a factual and truthful manner to heal the victims, rehabilitate perpetrators and move the nation forward.

Justice, accountability and reparations must be key even if this is a managed restorative, not retributive, process.

The process must be victim-centred, not driven by the perpetrators and their lackeys.

Only this way will the nation close this tragic chapter and move on.

Source - newshawks