GRAHAMSTOWN – Zimbabwean media did not do enough to question the way Mugabe was removed from office, a prominent Zimbabwean journalist told an audience at UCKAR* on Thursday.
“I thought at that time the media was supposed to question the way Mugabe was being pushed out. Was it democratically? No, it was a coup,” said Elias Mambo, an investigative journalist for the Zimbabwe Independent.
“But we (journalists) were told by the soldiers [to] report objectively and instead of calling it a coup, we ended up calling it ‘the military intervention’.”
Mambo was speaking at a seminar focused on the role Zimbabwean media played in the political polarisation of the country.
Members of the media were “given words to use in their reportage,” Mambo said. “To me as a reporter, as somebody who wants their independence, I see it as if that’s muzzling the media.”
The Information and Media Panel of Inquiry (Impi) also contributed to the manner through which media houses reported. The panel was established by the Zimbabwean government to “inquire into, assess and determine the policy, legal, technological, business, human resource and institutional adequacy and readiness in the information sector,” according to a 2014 report by the Mail and Guardian.
Impi members included editors from independent media outlets who may have been reluctant to give a negative portrayal of their employers in the media, Mambo explained. This unethical behaviour is partly to blame for the compromised state of Zimbabwean news media.
“The stories that came after the 2013 elections in Zimbabwe were [pro-government] and the opposition was left in tatters,” Mambo said. “No one was raising the concerns of the opposition that is the reason why right now there are no media reforms in Zimbabwe.”
“We are going to have elections anytime from June to August . . . but the playfield is not level and the opposition has got no voice,” he added.
Selby Ndondo, who is studying towards an Honours degree in History felt that Mambo’s presentation was enlightening.
“I was not aware of . . . how journalists sometimes feel like the opposition . . .doesn’t cooperate as much as they would like,” said Ndondo. “In a way you find that the opposition is a hindrance to their own stories being told.”
But the media itself can also pose a threat to the amount of representation opposition parties have. “I think that while the [independent] media plays an important role in the political climate . . . in many instances they become just as complacent as the state media,” said Shingo Mtero, who is pursuing her PhD in Politics.
The seminar was part of a series of seminars that will be hosted by the Unit of Zimbabwean Studies. The research unit is part of the University’s Sociology Department. The next seminar will focus on the state of the country after Mugabe was removed from presidency.
*UCKAR (University Currently Known As Rhodes) is an acronym that many students at Rhodes University use as a political statement to reject the racist legacy that is attached to its current name.