Politics is like soccer, everyone is an expert


I was invited to Tanzania last month for a panel discussion on how the media in Tanzania can be meaningfully transformed to promote accountability.

Although I have been going to Tanzania on and off since 1997, I told the audience that when I worked for a Harare-based regional news organisation, Africa Information Afrique, in the 1990s, it did not allow a journalist to write a story for the agency if that person was not a citizen of that country. It only allowed a non-citizen to write if the person had lived in the country for at least two years.

I, therefore, felt that I was not qualified to talk about media transformation in Tanzania because the longest I had lived in Tanzania continuously was only 10 months.

But what I could do was ask Tanzanian journalists whether they were doing what they were supposed to do. The Media Council of Tanzania’s Code of Ethics for journalists, for example, describes a journalist as: “A person trained on how to professionally collect and process news and information for use by the mass media and whose livelihood depends to a greater extent on income from those activities. He/she operates as trustee of the public and stands accountable for his/her activities.”

I asked the audience, which was almost all working journalists, whether they professionally processed any news or information that they gathered because if they did, then Tanzania was on its way to transforming its media.

Processing information means doing research, verifying information whether it is true or not, and even if true whether it is accurate. It also means verifying whether sources of news are credible or not, and ascertaining their motive for giving you the information.

I believe that this also applies to the Zimbabwean media. Does our media process, verify, crosscheck the information it publishes?

Perhaps!  But I have often asked myself for example, whether it is true that Zimbabwe has six million vendors? Where did our media get this figure? Did they verify it? How?

If our population is indeed just over 12 million and people aged 15 and above are almost seven million. Does it mean that only one million are not vendors?  Does it make sense to have six million vendors selling their products to one million?

At 15 right up to 18, one is supposed to be at school. So does this not reduce the figure? Of course, one can argue that children are also vending to make ends meet, so are they also being counted?

Then there was this lead about media favourite, Jonathan Moyo. “On his return from political wilderness just before the 2008 harmonised elections, Information Minister Jonathan Moyo summed up how difficult life was outside ZANU-PF: ‘It’s cold out there’,” he is quoted by several media as having said.

Is this true? Is it accurate? Yes, Jonathan Moyo could have said: “It’s cold out there”, but definitely he could not have said this before the 2008 harmonised elections, because he did not return from the political wilderness just before the 2008 harmonised elections.

Moyo fought the 2005 elections as an independent and won. He fought the 2008 elections, again as an independent, and won. It was only in 2013, that he fought the elections as a ZANU-PF candidate, but unfortunately he lost. Moyo only rejoined ZANU-PF in 2009 just before its party congress.

As the Tanzanian code of ethics says: journalists should be people who observe, defend and share a dedication to truth and accuracy, fairness, independence and moral integrity. Do Zimbabwean journalists share this passion?

I doubt it. It appears our journalists are obsessed with politics, party politics, succession battles and petty squabbles- real and imagined- that detract from the main issue- that the government should serve the people and be accountable to them. 

It’s easy to report politics because politics is like soccer. Everyone is an expert, including those who cannot even score a penalty when there is no goalkeeper. But just like soccer, it is only the players who know what is happening. All the rest are spectators- shouting, complaining, whining but with very little influence on the game, unless they decide to cheer their players. This perhaps can change the game.

The other problem is that while journalists clamour for others to be accountable, they do not seem to be accountable to anyone-sometimes not even their employer. Worst of all they ignore the most important person- the reader. Journalists forget that they get their information from people and are therefore, almost always, less informed than the public.

Perhaps if they realised, and accepted this, they would stop dishing trash to their readers, more so the daily papers because people already know the stories they are writing about before their papers gets to the streets. They therefore must add value to retain readers.


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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


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