Independent press threat to misrule

HARARE - In a state like ours, where the government hides its undemocratic tendencies behind the smokescreen of the Official Secrets Act and conceals important information from the public under the cloak of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, where corruption is rampant and bad governance is the order of the day — the independent press is by far the biggest threat to the misrule that we have witnessed for the last couple of decades.

This is because it is the biggest source of information for the general populace and the most effective shaper of public opinion.

Though the existence of laws like Public Order and Security Act (Posa) and the Official Secrets Act have made it a nightmare for members of the press to get information which has in turn affected the public and students who require such information for academic purposes, the independent press has still managed to play a critical role in the dissemination of credible information.

As the world commemorates International Press Freedom Day this week, it is important to note how the limited press freedom we enjoy in this country has been absolutely vital and extremely crucial in exposing and publicising a lot of egregious acts by the government such as human rights abuses and corruption which could have gone unnoticed or could have been swept under the rug were it not for the independent press’s vigilance and commitment to revealing the truth.

In this country, where journalists and editors have been arrested on numerous occasions, where until February 2016 the law criminalised the journalistic profession by making it possible for journalists to be arrested for defaming people in the course of their work, it would reflect a great deal of ungratefulness if we continued to pile praises on opposition leaders and prominent activists engaged in the fight for democracy while failing to salute members of the independent press without whom we would know little about those very same opposition leaders and activists some of us celebrate.

At great risk to their lives, day in and day out, members of the independent press in Zimbabwe report on issues that a lot of citizens are afraid to even speak about in public because of the culture of fear that has been created in the country.

According to George Orwell, “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.” In Zimbabwe, only the independent press practises journalism as defined by Orwell.

The fact that the State has threatened to clamp down on the independent press time and time again — though regrettable in as far as freedom of the press is concerned — is a huge sign that members of the independent press are doing their job right.

This is much unlike their State media counterparts who are clearly acting like public relations officials whose single objective is to please the status quo by writing stories that flatter officials in the ruling elite in a bid to present them in a good light to the public.

It appears that the only time the State media practices something that has a semblance of real journalism is when it is being used in factional fights to expose corrupt officials as was the case during the salary gate exposé.

Suffice it to say that considering the very limited democratic space that we have in our country, the independent press has done exceptionally well.

While we are yet to achieve total press freedom and are still engaged in the process of clamouring for it, it is comforting to know that from now until the time we achieve it, errant State officials will not make bad decisions on our behalf or engage in corrupt activities without the public knowing about it.

If it means journalists and editors will be arrested in the process of telling the truth without fear or favour, this is exactly what will happen because members of the independent press have shown us that they are not afraid to do their job in this harsh and undemocratic environment where being a member of the independent press poses more risk to one’s life than being deployed in a war zone.

Indeed the independent press, not the opposition which would not have the prominence it enjoys today were it not for the independent media, is the biggest threat to misrule in this country.

This is why prominent independent papers like the Daily News have been bombed twice and have had their staffers beaten or arrested for carrying out their duties in addition to being banned in 2003 before re-launching in 2010.

Other independent papers have also played a critical role in the democratisation process and have been victimised for it.

The independent media deserves honourable mention and credit for the role it has played.   

Comments (1)

Don't fool yourself into believing that students need the trash that is being printed and sold as news in the private media. There is nothiung useful whatsoever that is there for students. Private media has proved that it cannot be an alternative and reliable information source for the public. Instead, it partners with opposition, worsening polarisation of the media. Independent media is no more. We don't have independent media in Zimbabwe, if i can just give this uninformed reporter a free lecture. Someone must really throw some dust on your eyes.

Dust - 8 May 2016

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