No to lectures on ethical journalism

LONDON - Now and again, the State media are given to pontificating about ethical journalism.

These lectures are invariably critical of the privately-owned media.

This self-righteous criticism implies that the State media practise ethical journalism while the privately-owned media do not.

But a dispassionate analysis of media practice in this country shows that the State media are least qualified to lecture on the ethics of journalism.

Admittedly, diametrically opposed media typologies have emerged in this country, often referred to as polarisation.

The privately-owned media seek to consistently hold the government to account while the State media unswervingly extol virtues of the government, Zanu PF and President Robert Mugabe.

Yet the privately-owned media seek to fulfil a legitimate journalistic pursuit by making sure the government is accountable rather than engage in often unwarranted praise-singing.

It should not be the duty of the media to constantly lavish praise on a government for performing duties for which it was elected.

Why should the so-called mega-deals, for instance, invite unending praise when a government is elected to perform such duties?

Such deals do not show any extraordinarily creative engagement outside normal diplomatic pursuits expected of any government. The function of the media ought to be to establish whether such grandiosely-termed engagements eventually manifest in equally monumental benefits for society.

Equally, all media should not be expected to join the chorus about the so-called ZimAsset in the name of patriotic or developmental journalism when such blueprint does not seem to be yielding its outlandish promises.

There are no signs of 2 million jobs, hospitals, clinics and schools. The common criticism is that the journalism that privately-owned media practice is bereft of balance.

Presidential spokesperson George Charamba last went further, saying the type of journalism was animated by malice, particularly towards the First Family.

Again, it is just self-serving for the State media and their controllers to make prudish claims ground on so-called unbalanced or malicious journalism when there is nothing balanced about media that assume an editorial stance that invariably demonises a legitimate opposition party and its leader while maintaining that the leader of their favoured party is infallible.

Last time we heard he cannot fall, and last week, that he does not borrow, as if he is beyond accepted challenges of dotage, and earthly help.

Before the State media bang on about ethical journalism they should show just one instance that, in recent years, where they even remotely criticise the man of flesh and blood that is Mugabe.

It is unrealistic, and indeed unethical, to operate on a presumption that a human being is faultless.

There is nothing ethical either about the unquestioning regurgitation of serious claims about treason against a former vice-president who has fallen out of favour with her party, when such allegations cannot be proven.

Charamba, also secretary for information, accuses the privately-owned media of malicious journalism, particularly against the First Family.

For someone with influence in the State media, it is a bit rich for him to assume any moral high ground when he implicitly approves of the type of journalism that relishes in unproven claims about treason and witchcraft against the former vice-president.

Genuine mistakes can be made in journalism without malicious intent. The State media and their leash-holders cannot pontificate about ethical journalism and latch on to perceived transgression to even justify laws deemed unconstitutional by the courts.

Yet the sins of the State media are existential — the government should not have any business in the media but govern — and innumerable: from belittling human massacres and abductions of innocent citizens to deleterious idolatry.

When media are created for the sole purpose of praising a government, party and its leader as irreproachable while their contenders are deemed permanently fallible and disposable, then a problem — call it polarisation if you like — is bound to arise.

Lectures on balance and malice in journalism become irritatingly vacuous.

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