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.
The media plays a vital role in our politics but if we cannot depend on journalistic ethics, the nation is in deep trouble. 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 after all. The problem comes in when support for certain organisations and/ or individual politicians clouds a journalist’s ideological and policy critical appraisal. It is when objective presentation of facts is sacrificed for subjectivity which is allowed to select misleading facts that democracy is compromised.
For media credibility, journalists working for public or independent publications are not to behave like party spokes persons or personal assistants of politicians, they must maintain journalistic independence and ethics; ideological preference must never be the reason for shallow, poorly researched and poorly construed political arguments. Asking politicians tough questions is not disrespectful.
The tragedy unfolding within the Zimbabwean political space is the emergence of a click of journalistic centrists who purposely avoid hard truths for the sake of acceptance and legitimacy; these are journalists that have allowed themselves to be transformed into MDC political party sales agents. Their role has turned into marketing Tsvangirai and not analysing ideas and policies.
We are witnessing a disturbing collective media protection of Morgan Tsvangirai by the not so independent ‘independent media’. We are left in a journalistic and political pickle because we have put aside the principle that all things must be examined, debated, investigated without exception and without regard for anyone’s feelings.
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 critique 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 remains 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.