In Zimbabwe, as in many countries across the world, the digital revolution is transforming the field of journalism, presenting new and unprecedented challenges.
The Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ), a professional media self-regulatory body set up in 2007 to promote media freedom and ethical journalism, recently convened a panel discussion to spotlight the challenges facing journalism in Zimbabwe titled: “Ethical Challenges Facing Media in a Digital World.”
Hivos, in partnership with the Royal Netherlands Embassy (RNE), is currently supporting VMCZ to promote freedom of expression through a media complaints mechanism that does not criminalise the work of journalists, while at the same time promoting accountability.
“The advent of new media has helped the world to access news much faster. Also, anyone with a gadget can potentially report news, but do they follow ethics? Some of the new media practitioners are producing information which is hazardous to society,” said Kelvin Jakachira, news editor at ZiFM, a local radio station.
Jakachira said that the VMCZ should engage service providers so that bloggers who are running news web platforms in Zimbabwe are registered in order to hold them accountable.
Maggie Mzumara, news editor with The Financial Gazette, said that the media landscape is undergoing major changes that are threatening conventional journalism.
“The digital media emphasises speed and real-time availability of news – speed is a pressure point for conventional journalism. As conventional journalists, we’re guided by a set of values including balance, verification and accuracy,” said Mzumara, adding that plagiarism is also a major problem in the digital landscape as well as hacking of databases.
John Mokwetsi, online news editor at Alpha Media Holdings, publishers of Newsday, The Zimbabwe Independent and The Standard, said that journalists had lost the power to be gatekeepers due to new media.
“We are now being forced to fight for page views and eyeballs. User-generated comments also present a hot potato, and we don’t know how to deal with them. The traditional media is shrinking in terms of resources. To complicate matters, an online legal environment is currently non-existent in Zimbabwe,” he said.
Nigel Mugamu, founder of 263Chat.com, an initiative which encourages dialogue and conversations on Zimbabwe using social media, noted that new media is filling a gap in the media landscape. He said that media products in the country are highly priced, and the type of content is mostly political at the expense of real life issues that affect everyday people.
“I started 263Chat.com over three years ago because I recognised that social media is about engagement. Social media is an equalizer, it enables everyone to tell a story; people can share their own narratives,” said Mugamu.” Newspapers speak only to the politics of our society, as if all Zimbabweans are politicians.”
VMCZ Executive Director Loughty Dube said that the purpose of the panel discussion is to improve the professional standards of journalism in Zimbabwe.
“Our aim is to make the media accountable, and that’s why we are creating platforms so that we can discuss emerging issues. Traditional and new journalism need not compete against each other. A citizen journalist can in some instances tell a story better because they are closer to the source of news, so it’s not fair to merely slander them because they lack professional training,” said Dube.
He said citizen journalists were providing an alternative voice and giving a voice to people who would ordinarily be news sources.