Expecting the media to be apolitical is rather too much to expect from any human being or any human-led institution. Ideally, one would want the media’s role to be that of providing well researched information to the people and allowing the public to make independent and informed judgement. The media should preferably not be telling people what things to see or how to think.
Most people’s perception of the role of the media in a democratic political space is that of creating a hub of objective information: the media should reserve judgement but allow the public enough room to make informed judgement on ideology and policy matters. However, it is not uncommon but accepted and indeed in practice there is no problem with media houses publicly expressing their ideological preferences; that is their democratic right. The problem comes in when support for individual politicians clouds a journalist’s ideological and policy critical appraisal. Journalists must maintain journalistic independence and ethics; ideological preference must never be the reason for shallow, poorly researched and poorly constructed political arguments.
The tragedy unfolding within the Zimbabwean political space is the emergence of a click of journalists that have allowed themselves to be transformed into political sales agents. Their role has turned into marketing political figures and not policies or critiquing those policies. It is worrying that despite the fact that Tsvangirai has been the common denominator in all of the fallout within the MDC (break up in 2005 and the latest break up in April 2014), his fans in the so-called independent media want to blame everyone else but Tsvangirai for the break-ups. We need a better and more balanced critic of the leadership problems within the MDC.
No amount of attacks on Welshman Ncube, Elton Mangoma, Tendai Biti and others hide Tsvangirai’s inherent lack of strategy and vision as an opposition leader. For a long time, the media has constructively protected Tsvangirai from blame by shifting attention away and to his opponents most of whom have been subject of unjust and biased critic from the interested journalists. Tsvangirai needs to be judged only on his leadership performance since 1999; his MDC has suffered worrying systematic deficits of democracy which have impacted internal stability.
The fact is that, the MDC under Tsvagirai’s watch has not, in terms of policy, been a novelty or effectively distinguished itself from ZANU PF. It is widely accepted that the MDC and Tsvangirai beat ZANU PF and Mugabe in the 2008 general election. The victory was however, not built on the party’s policy superiority over ZANU PF but ZANU PF’s own socioeconomic and political policy suicide. Tsvangirai ‘received’ as opposed to ‘won’ a protest vote; people and the world wanted change in Zimbabwe, and any change from ZANU PF was sufficient at that time.
Journalism cannot afford the loss of credibility and trust among the public. The least we can expect from journalists is for them to undertake good research before writing any article meant to be an ideological opinion or fact or analysis. The media must not be seen to be playing a tragic role of supporting politicians while politicians create a democratic deficit in the country or within their own organisations. Media houses must desist from brazenly selective, deceptive and unjust attacks on certain political figures simply to advance the political interests of their personal favourites. Times have moved on, Zimbabweans deserve a good change not any change now.