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Media that serves the ruling elite is against the people!

20 Dec 2023 at 22:56hrs | Views
Lately, in Zimbabwe, there has been a noticeable resurgence in calls for media to focus more on what is termed 'developmental journalism'.

We have heard this call repeated by the new information minister Jenfan Muswere as he urged the media to focus their news on 'developmental projects being undertaken by the Second Republic'.

For starters, governments have no business whatsoever instructing the media on what they should or should not report.

Even when it pertains to state-owned media, governments are normally prevented from meddling in these institutions' editorial policies, whether directly or indirectly.

That is why section 61(4a) of our Constitution in Zimbabwe unambiguously stipulates: all state-owned media of communication must be free to determine independently the editorial content of their broadcasts or other communications.

What can be clearer than that?

So, in what capacity was Muswere telling the media on what issues to cover, especially carefully disguised as so-called 'developmental journalism'?

Of course, we in the journalism fraternity are fully aware of what exactly those in power would be demanding.

They want a compliant and subservient media, which solely focuses on the government's 'developmental projects and programs'.

In so doing, these journalists are not supposed to hold those in authority to account, or honestly critiquing these policies, or investigating and exposing any nefarious activities.

All that is expected from the media is parroting whatever is expressed by the government and portraying everything it does as 'good for the country and people'.

Such 'developmental journalism' creates a media that 'sees no evil, hears no evil, or speaks no evil' about the ruling establishment.

This, even in the presence of glaring incidents of incompetence and mismanagement, as well as looting of state resources - all undeniable counter-developmental and anti-people.

In fact, it goes without saying that, for any genuine development in a country to take place, there is a need for those in authority to be made answerable to the people they lead.

This ensures the faithful stewardship of national resources and religious adherence to the principles of the rule of law, justice, and fairness.

Surely, what 'development' can a nation talk about in the absence of such tenets?

Being reduced to mere propaganda tools can never truly be described as being 'developmental'.

In fact, the concept of 'development journalism' was actually suggested as a way of holding governments accountable to their citizenry - as opposed to the popular narrative of reducing journalists to mouthpieces.

This is a challenge faced by our noble profession, predominantly because of state-controlled media houses.

'Development journalism' was conceived in the 1960s at the Press Foundation of Asia (PFA) by Filipino journalists Alan Chalkley and Juan Mercado.

They were mainly concerned over the media's obsession with reporting on government press releases and quoting top officials.

We even witness this in Zimbabwe, where state media appears more focused on solely reporting on events presided over by senior government officials and limiting their stories to quoting what was said.

In the process, they gave very little attention to detailed analysis, interpretation, or evaluation of development projects, policies, and problems.

These concerns led Chalkley and Mercado to organize seminars at the FPA to train journalists in the art of 'development journalism'.

Without going into unnecessary detail, the aim was for reporters to offer critical evaluation and interpretation of development plans and their implementation.

In other words, initially, the idea of 'development journalism' was contrary to what we were later to witness, especially in countries such as in our own Zimbabwe.

Here, our leaders appropriated and perverted this term to mean singing the praises of those in power by showing how 'successful' they have been governing.

These leaders actually took journalism back to the era that Chalkley and Mercado were against - of media that simply highlighted whatever the ruling elite instructed.

That is why today, what is now being called 'developmental journalism' largely centres on following around government officials and only repeating what they say.

Our journalists have been turned into PR (public relations) officers for the ruling elite - whose only role is showcasing what they package as 'success stories'.

There is a serious lack in any critical analysis, evaluation, or investigation into what is really taking place under the surface.

These are attributes necessary in holding those in authority accountable to the people who placed them in power and key to any meaningful development.

Only when the government itself decides to 'reveal' some anomalies do we finally witness, largely state media, acting as they if they are critical and investigative.

A case in point was the recently announced 2024 National Budget Proposal by the finance minister Mthuli Ncube.

After the presentation, and in the days that followed, the state broadcaster, ZBC, painted a picture of an overwhelming acceptance of the budget by a cross-section of Zimbabwean society.

They brought on board their trusted 'economic experts', who told anyone who cared to listen that the budget was indeed 'pro-poor' - as had been previously assured by Ncube.

These 'analysts' never raised any concerns or objections over the shocking increases in such services as passports and toll fees or the so-called 'wealth tax'.

No one expressed any reservations whatsoever that an increase in passport application fees from US$120 to US$200 or an over 100 percent move in toll fess was completely unreasonable.

As a matter of fact, the state broadcaster never bothered enquiring from ordinary citizens on their real thoughts regarding these stunning increases and how they were likely to affect an already impoverished population.

Yet, on the other end of the media spectrum, privately-owned media was on the case, making sure that these outrageous new fees were challenged.

They gave a voice to all affected stakeholders - from the ordinary person on the street to the business community - who were all bound to suffer tremendously from the undeniably 'anti-poor' budget.

As a result, significant pressure was exerted upon the minister, who was eventually forced to back down by significantly reducing the magnitude of these increases.

Now, a passport will cost US$150 from 1st January 2024.

Although that is still way out of reach of many Zimbabweans - rendering this vital document the most expensive in the entire southern African region.

So, where was the state media in all this?

Had the private media taken the same route of shutting out the voices of the people of Zimbabwe, the nation would have still been subjected to those ridiculous initial increases.

Who then practiced real 'developmental journalism'?

Who served the interests of the nation - as opposed to those of the ruling establishment?

Obviously, the media that held the government to account were the true 'developmental journalists'.

Turning a blind eye to government pronouncements that adversely affect the poor is not the type of 'development journalism' pioneers as Chalkley and Mercado had envisioned.

What type of 'development' is there in ignoring the cries and suffering of ordinary people?

Yet, those calling themselves 'patriotic' and experts on 'developmental journalism' were complicit in this further impoverishment of Zimbabweans.

We need the media to hold those in power answerable to the people whilst also closely scrutinizing how all government actions affect the nation.

True development can only be realized when the government is held to the highest standards.

Acts of corruption should be fearlessly exposed, as well as programs and policies always placed under the microscope.

In the absence of such media, there can never be any meaningful development in any country.

The media is supposed to be the eyes, ears, and mouths of ordinary people

Not of the political elite.

© Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice advocate and writer. Please feel free to WhatsApp or Call: +263715667700 | +263782283975, or email: mbofana.tendairuben73@gmail.com, or visit website: https://mbofanatendairuben.news.blog/


Source - Tendai Ruben Mbofana
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