Media Viability Threats Now Worse Than Repressive Laws: Top Scribe

By Sij Ncube

Harare, May 04, 2016 – ZIMBABWE’S media houses face serious viability challenges owing to the prevailing harsh economic climate which has forced companies to downsize both in their operations and staff.

The unfortunate development, it is said, has given rise to corruption in media houses with some journalists allegedly accepting bribes to “kill stories” potentially dangerous to the reputation of paying individuals.

In a frank presentation during the Bornwell Chakaodza Memorial Lecture Wednesday, Zimbabwe Independent newspaper editor Dumisani Muleya, lamented the prevalence of corruption in media houses.

The internationally renowned senior scribe said due to viability problems, poor remuneration and delayed salaries, journalists in Zimbabwe are now increasingly compromising ethics.

Professional standards are no longer observed as they used to, he said, adding journalists now had no qualms in soliciting for bribes to stop news stories from publication.

“Some journalists are taking money to stop writing stories,” Muleya said.

“This is a serious problem in Zimbabwe which I think the journalists are taking a cue from the government where corruption is the order of the day. In the current government those officials not dabbling in corruption are seen as silly and not normal,” he said.

So for Zimbabwean scribes, it is monkey see, monkey do, he said.

Muleya said in terms of the state of media freedom and the operating environment, things that Chakadoza was greatly concerned about, the situation has somewhat improved yet serious threats linger on.

While repressive media laws were a threat to the profession as a whole, the economy presently remained the biggest threat to media survival, Muleya said.

He was referring to the existence of old laws such as criminal defamation, which inhibit the free discharge of journalistic work.

“But the biggest threat to media survival now is the economy. This means the current regime remains the biggest threat to the media since it is the architect or author of this economic crisis.”

He noted that even leading media companies, among them Zimbabwe Newspaper Group, Alpha Media Holdings, Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe and the state- run Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, have been forced to retrench and embrace convergence as part of restructuring, downsizing and cost cutting-measures for survival.

Muleya added that the media houses were in turmoil, grappling with demands to adapt to rapidly changing innovations and commercial models that affect their businesses.

He took a swipe at what he viewed as the government’s failure to deliver diversity in the broadcasting sector, pointing out at the partisan licensing of so-called independent radio stations linked to Zanu PF.

“Broadcasting remains a preserve of the state and its associates. Broadcasting licences are not issued transparently and fairly – only allies and cronies of the system get them.

“Some of them don’t even have the basic infrastructure, resources and skills to use the licences, yet those are the key requirements in getting licences in the first place,” said Muleya.

The Bornwell Chakaodza memorial lecture was inaugurated in 2012 after the death of the veteran scribe who succumbed to cancer.

The lecture series, which is now in its fifth year, is in honour of the former editor of Herald and The Standard who stood for media freedom, professional and ethical journalism.