By Sij Ncube
BULAWAYO, JULY 01, 2015 – Just in time for winter, newly elected Zanu (PF) legislator for Makokoba, Retired Colonel Tshinga Dube, has sent pairs of male stockings to Chronicle news crew as a token of appreciation following his victory in the June 10 by-election, a move analysts confirms the public media as an appendage of President Robert Mugabe’s ruling party.
Sources at Chronicle said Dube, who had failed dismally to make it to parliament in the past two consecutive parliamentary polls in Makokoba, delivered the consignment on Monday together with a framed certificate emblazoned his portrait and Zanu (PF) logo to editor, Mduduzi Mathuthu’s office in Bulawayo.
“If it was not you I would not have been elected a Member of Parliament for Makokoba Constituency. Ngiyabonga,” reads part of Dube’s letter of appreciation seen by Radio VOP.
Chronicle and other newspapers in the Zimbabwe Newspapers Limited stable gave favourable and glowing coverage to all the 16 Zanu PF candidates ahead of the June 10 bye-elections which Mugabe’s party won largely due to a crippling boycott by the main opposition MDC, citing lack of wide-sweeping reforms.
Dube specifically dominated pages of the Chronicle who covered all his campaign rallies and donations in and around the Makokoba constituency.
He particularly caused a political storm on the eve of the polls when he roped in Matabeleland’s popular football team, Highlander Football Club after he donated a 65-seater in which Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa was the guest of honour.
The function was front-page news in the state media, including The Sunday Mail.
Confirming the donation, Mathuthu wrote on his Twitter: “Someone said it’s reward for ‘working our socks off’.”
But the issue has generated a huge debate on ethics in journalism with critics adamant it confirms the partisan nature of the public in favour of Mugabe and his Zanu PF.
Loughty Dube, the executive director of the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe, the body which promotes professionalism and accountability in the country’s media, says it is not the role of the media to campaign for political candidates but the political candidate is however free to thank the media for media coverage but not for campaigning and making him win.
“It is very unprofessional for Tshinga to do that (paying with socks) and for the editor to accept the gift under any circumstances,” said Dube.
Tabani Moyo, an advocacy officer with the Media Institute of Southern Africa Zimbabwe Chapter, weighted in saying, the incident shows how newsmen and women have become extensions of political expedience at the expense of ethics of the profession.
“The politician in this case came out in the open to expose what we have always known to be happening at state media level. However what we didn’t know is that the profession has become this low in terms of its net value, going for a pair of Chinese socks as remuneration for public relations function,” said Moyo.
“It also speaks to the deplorable working conditions and remuneration in the media. In every measure, the profession has suspended its faculties in terms of observing ethical practice. There is need for a rebooting of the profession to cleanse itself of the demons of political activism such as brown-socks journalism, read brown-envelope journalism.”
There is general consensus among Zanu PF politicians and supporters that the public media is in their pocket; analysts note, pointing out that that’s why some ministers and government officials refuse to officiate at certain functions when there is no public media.
On Monday the minister of primary and secondary education, Lazarus Dokora cancelled a press briefing citing the absence of a crew from the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, hardly a week after Josiah Hungwe, the minister of Psycho Motor, did the same.
But there are also legendary tales about the late local government minister Enos Chikowore whose love for television knew no bounds. In his book Nose for News, veteran broadcast journalist, Tapfuma Machakaire, recounts how, when he was a ministry of information press officer, he was ordered by Chikowore to fly back to Harare to fetch a ZBC crew to cover him in one of the country’s remotest districts.
Jacob Mafume, the spokesperson for MDC Renewal Team, says it an open secret Zanu PF officials expect public media journalists to do their bidding.
Last month Prosecutor General Johannes Tomana raised eyebrows when he complained that he expected positive coverage from The Herald and Chronicle after he was exposed over his remarks that children under the age of 12 should be allowed to marry.
“But I hope the reporters have the decency to refuse such a gift that makes a mockery of their profession,” remarked Mafume.
“Chronicle is a public paper which is supposed to be neutral and journalists have no business taking such gifts from politicians. The best gift that he can give the reporters and country is for his lot to retire in peace and leave the country to recover from Zanu (PF) parasitic and genocidal rule,” said Mafume.
Dube’s Thank You to Chronicle News Crew comes the same week the Zimbabwe Peace Project released a report on the June 10 bye-elections showing that the public media was biased towards Zanu (PF).