Can you imagine American politics being dictated by the New York Post or the National Enquirer? Or British politics being dictated by the Sun? This is almost unthinkable. But the world has blindly accepted that Zimbabwe’s politics can be dictated by tabloids and internet publications.
The Zimbabwe government has shut-down publications like the Daily News which offered an alternative voice but does this give editors a licence to accept stories written by faceless journalists whose names could have been picked up from any telephone directory?
Ask any editor who is using such stories and offering anonymity to the writers why they accept such double standards, the answer is that journalists in Zimbabwe are working under extremely difficult conditions because of the repressive regime in Harare.
Since Zimbabwe has kicked out Western journalists, those who want to cover the country have to make-do with who ever is willing to take the risk. With the lure of the pound sterling or the American dollar, and hiding behind the cloak of anonymity, who would not be willing to take that “risk”, especially if a 300-word story will earn the “journalist” the equivalent of three months’ salary for a full-time senior journalist?
People have to survive. But is this “protection” against invisible enemies not a licence to the “journalists” to lie? After all when they lie, editors are quick to defend them arguing that a “little” lie will not hurt anyone. Because of the protection that they know they will receive many of these “journalists” do not have the guts to tell their editors that the story they want is not there?
In fact, half the time they write what they think their editors, or donors who fund their sites, and the world want to hear? The Zimbabwe story is very complex. Its coverage is therefore a challenge even to a seasoned journalist. It needs someone who knows how the ruling ZANU-PF operates. It needs someone who knows how the world operates? It needs someone who constantly asks that important question: So what? It needs someone who knows the ZANU-PF constitution in and out. It needs someone who understands or knows the history of the country from pre-independence days. It needs someone who knows the Movement for Democratic Change in and out. It needs someone who knows who is who in Zimbabwean politics, not just the so-called kingmakers that have been created by the media.
It needs someone who knows who controls the media, especially the so-called independent media and the internet websites. The media frenzy over the past month clearly demonstrates that there is much more to the Zimbabwe story than meets the eye.
The reporting has verged on paranoia, reminiscent of the hysteria that some journalists went through in 2002. Some had staked their careers on a Morgan Tsvangirai victory and went berserk when Mugabe won.
Today some journalists are flagrantly ignoring facts on the ground just because they fell Mugabe should go. Indeed, the 83-year-old president has overstayed but people cannot just wish him away. But the most disturbing thing is that journalists won’t admit when they get their stories wrong. Instead they go all out to defend or justify the stories. Journalism is not like economics where you can explain away everything even when you have made wrong predictions.