The Death of the Zimbabwean Media

There was once a time, not so long ago, when Zimbabwean journalists and media personalities were the pick of the crop. Who can forget the incisive analysis of journalists like Geoff Nyarota?

Who can forget the polished deliveries of the late Alison Chavundukha? Who can forget the slick presentation of Tich Mataz, Joseph Madimba, Wellington Mbofana, Noreen Welch to name a few? 

Back then, there were standards. There was quality. Media personalities set a high bar and many youngsters who followed in their footsteps used them as yardsticks to measure their progress and as relevant standards.

Back then foreign stations and media outlets used to scout for Zimbabwean media talent because we were the best. We were in demand. People looked up to us back then.

Back then, ZBC and The Herald had a stranglehold on the dissemination of news and information. They had virtually no competition. No one can dispute that their monopoly served as a useful propaganda for the ruling party.

Many argued that alternatives to their voices were a good thing. Competition would apparently raise the quality of information and diversify views something that is good for a healthy nation.

There is no argument against multiple views being good for the nation. There is no argument that a healthy nation requires competent critics. Constructive criticism can keep politicians in check and prevent them from under-performing.

Fast forward to the digital age, desk top publishing and the birth of the internet. Multiple multimedia outlets sprouted within the Zimbabwean media. Anybody who had access to technology became a media personality. The cult of celebrity was cultivated.

Many media outlets were simply propaganda outlets who were inferior clones of the ZBC and The Herald. Many were financed by liberal institutions or foreign state organs masquerading as NGOs and liberals or do gooders but they had ulterior motives. Standards were not at the forefront of their minds. Quality was compromised for agendas and vendettas.

Most if not all media outlets representing the Zimbabwean spectrum moved either to the extreme left or right of the political spectrum. The centre became taboo. They became mere echo chambers of their sponsors. They simply became reproducers of press releases sent to them by their handlers.

In form, they were no different from the embedded media found in the Occident. They asked no questions. They conducted no investigations to establish the facts and simply parroted their masters. They jumped when told to and talked when ordered.

Objectivity became extinct. Subjectivity started to trend. Facts didn’t matter. Propaganda was the currency of the day. Those who had the money to pay could afford to influence public opinion in the war to win the hearts and minds of Zimbabweans at home and abroad. Managing the perceptions of the population was the priority.

Zimbabwean journalism became a whore like the church. It spread its legs widest for the highest bidder and the most powerful and influential players in the game.

Advertisers lubricated the prostitution. They put their money where the highest traffic could be found and the best dressed whore earned its reputation. The truth, objectivity, standards, ethics, quality, etc. were collateral damage discarded like used condoms in the intellectual wilderness.

Standards dropped. The quality of multimedia productions plummeted. The avatars, grade sevens and the spin doctors moved in. Mass media dropouts hijacked the scene. Journalists who could neither construct grammatically correct sentences nor spell passed themselves off as competent professionals. Frauds and impostors hijacked the game and took over in a bloodless coup.

Wannabes and fame starving personalities moved in and kept up appearances to pretend they were somebodies when they were nobodies.

However, not all were fooled. Those in the know knew that if a journalist can’t get the basics [grammar and spelling] right, the little details correct, they won’t bother with the big things – FACTS! And the truth! It’s at moments like these that Ernst Fischer’s words ring so true:

“In a decaying society, art, if it is truthful, must also reflect decay. And unless it wants to break faith with its social function, art must show the world as changeable. And help to change it.”

Producers and directors who thought that making documentaries, inserts or films simply involved pointing a camera in the right direction and shooting took over compromising the quality of productions. We made Nollywood look like Hollywood. The technical skills that once had been the mainstay of competent professionals fell along the wayside as incompetent amateurs muscled in like superheroes flexing their financial biceps and six packs.

One thing is obvious in Zimbabwe today. We look back to the past as a time when things were really good. We are a people stuck in the past. Not only is it ironic but it is also tragic. Our best is trapped in the past instead of looking with optimism for our best in the present or future.

It is not only the standards of living that have dropped. But the rot is wide spread. It is manifest in our leadership. It is manifest in our infrastructure. It is manifest in the business sector. It is manifest in our media. Our culture and traditions are not immune to the rot eating away at our society.

We often boast about Zimbabweans being the most educated in Africa. However, what do we have to show for all our education? What good is our education if we cannot produce journalists and media personalities who can write and spell properly? Isn’t it better if we revert to using our mother tongue than resort to making fools of ourselves on the international stage?

If we are going to be media personalities or journalists, and use English as a medium of communication, then there is much more to simply “nosing” English. Using nasalised accents imitating the British or Americans is not a standard. It’s called aping. It doesn’t illustrate a grasp of what it takes to cut it as a journalist.

Understanding ethics is one. A grasp of standards is another. Critical analysis and objectivity are others. Competency and the technical know how cannot be sacrificed for the show. The latter two are qualities that have ultimately led to the demise of productive industries and companies in Zimbabwe.

However, the biggest issue that undermines Zimbabwean journalism is copy and paste reproduction. This is not even journalism. I guess we call such people or media outlets – copy cats.

It is an indictment on the intelligence of Zimbabweans when our journalists and media outlets copy and paste articles such as this one from the Daily Maverick –

What is the point? Don’t we Zimbabweans have minds of our own to think that we have to resort to reproducing articles from other media outlets?

Is this a form of mimicry that we believe that the opinions of others are more important than the opinions of our own people? We look to the west. We look to the east. Rarely, do we look within ourselves for solutions. It seems we are in desperate need of a dose of Black Consciousness to gain the confidence and drive to do things for ourselves.

Has colonial education managed to produce the “mimic man” Macaulay wrote about in “Minute on Indian Education” in 1835:

“We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian (Zimbabwean) in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in moral, in intellect.”

There are millions of young Zimbabweans who are unemployed and looking for opportunities. Surely any one of them could have produced an equally analytical and incisive narrative as the one copied and pasted from the Daily Maverick.

I know Zimbabweans are opinionated people. And there is no shortage of critics who could have done a better job than the Daily Maverick. Let us not undermine our youth who are progressive and hungry for opportunities to shine.

imageOur media outlets must not be like the leaders of our political parties – deadwood – and unwilling to let fresh brains take over the hot seat when they are bereft of ideas and constantly looking towards others to do things they should be doing for themselves. Thinking is hard work! We haven’t acquitted ourselves well in this department despite our high literacy rates.

This lack of competency, technical skills and creativity has led to the demise of the Zimbabwean media. It surely needs more than the spiritual miracles of our Pentecostal prophets to resurrect it from the dead.

It seems we need a dose of Frantz Fanon’s prescription to rid our minds of the germs left behind by colonialism, “for ourselves and for humanity, comrades, we must make a new start, develop a new way of thinking, and endeavour to create a new man”.

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