'Zim scribes among most frightened'

BULAWAYO - Former journalism lecturer at the National University of Science and Technology (Nust) and Fort Hare University head of department, Bhekimpilo Sibanda, has described Zimbabwean journalists as the most educated but a frightened lot who squirm from freely executing their duties.

He said it was this fright that leads to self-censorship therefore denying the nation the real situation on the ground.

Speaking during the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe organised press conference at the Bulawayo Press Club, Sibanda said as the nation heads towards elections this year journalists need to stamp their authority as they have the capability to build or destroy the nation.

“Zimbabwean journalists are amongst the most educated I have seen, I have met, but they are also amongst the most frightened in the world,” said Sibanda.

“Most of the problems that arise from the mistakes we make in the media are through fright and self-censorship. Even before you go to your own editor you have removed the meat out of your story,” Sibanda added.

Harassment and intimidation of journalists particularly those in the private media have become common in Zimbabwe especially before and during the general elections.

On the turn of the millennium most journalists were tortured or maimed by Robert Mugabe’s government, a move that also led to some being forced into self- exile.

As if that was not enough, repressive draconian laws such as Public Order and Security (Posa) and Access to Information Protection of Private Act (Aippa) were enacted which further compounded the operation of media practitioners.

Sibanda described local journalists as their own enemies when it comes to effective dissemination of information to the people.

He said journalists really needed to be brave in order to ensure a peaceful and democratic nation.

He said in South Africa it only took one brave journalist to unlock the colonial repressive media laws.

“The South African media was worse than ours because for every sentence you had to be cleared from Pretoria to read that. The point I am making is the day Mandela and Winnie walked out of   prison……..it took only a single journalist who said Mandela is out to hell with this,” said Sibanda, also a former lecturer at the University of Limpopo.

“We must from now know whom we are serving. A true journalist sides with the people. You must be loyal to the truth and stop taking opinions and making them into establishment,” he said.

Sibanda, who was one of the lecturers to successfully push for the introduction of the Journalism Faculty at Nust, said elections by their nature had the propensity to stir conflict regardless of the political party.

As a result he urged journalists to always get their facts right through observing the fundamental principles of reporting which include fairness and balanced reporting.

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