By Judith Sibanda
Victoria Falls, March 24, 2016 – RESIDENTS in the resort town have complained about poor media coverage in Matabeleland North province, saying they are starved of information that is crucial for development of their areas.
The residents raised the issue at a meeting organised by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Zimbabwe on Tuesday under the theme “Positioning the media to defend its democratic space”.
They complained that national newspapers did not reach most parts of the province, which also had no access to electronic media, save for foreign-based radio stations run by Zimbabweans such as the Voice of America’s Studio 7 and RadioVOP.
“People do not understand what local media is all about because many papers do not carry local content but instead focus on what is happening in other big towns like Harare,” said Victor Sibanda.
“People want to read about themselves and that is the only way they can have interest in media related issues.”
Zimbabwe’s leading newspapers are based mainly in Harare and Bulawayo.
The distribution of the papers in recent years has been curtailed by the economic problems facing the country that have seen a number of publishers cutting down on distribution costs.
Matabeleland North also does not have community newspapers like other provinces, with a government paper meant to cover the province based in Bulawayo.
The province’s only commercial radio station –Breeze FM licensed in 2014 – is yet to take to the airwaves with its owners blaming the economic problems in Zimbabwe for the delay.
ZBC radio and television coverage is limited due to lack of transmitters. Misa Zimbabwe senior programmes officer Nyasha Nyakunu said people in the province had no access to mainstream media.
“Some places like Hwange do not have access to independent papers like NewsDay and as a result, they end up not being keen to buy or read online as they will know the issues are not about them,” he said.
“Many people here use Whatsapp or Facebook to disseminate information.
“The Breeze FM radio station, which was meant to alleviate the problem, has gone quiet and people are losing hope.”
Journalists from the province also complained that they were being left out of national events.
The journalists said their counterparts from big cities like Harare and Bulawayo were given preferential treatment even when covering events in places like Victoria Falls.
“Whenever there is a conference or any other related government event, the organisers have a tendency of shunning the freelance journalists and some from independent papers as they always say they are sell-outs,” said Clement Mukwasi, a freelance journalist.
“We feel that is not fair, for instance, about a month ago there was a state security conference at local hotel; and only the State media was allowed to come in despite a proof of accreditation.”
Nyakunu encouraged the journalists to raise alarm whenever such cases occurred. The meeting resolved that locals should embrace citizen journalism to counter their exclusion from national issues.