Dr Gift Gwindingwe, correspondent
Zimbabwe’s socio-economic and political terrain is rugged. The media are indeed battlefields where ideological disputes are rife. This reflects the multiplicity of points of view and demonstrates the potential of the media as a marketplace of ideas.
However, observations on online and traditional media point to self-degradation; self-hatred and self-mockery are prominent traits that run through our Zimbabwean media content. In particular, social media illusions of reality seem to trump offline realities.
The positives to be drawn from public and private media in Zimbabwe and beyond is that the media play their watchdog role. It keeps governments in check. A disturbing trend, particularly on social media platforms, is of self-hatred amid our local socio-economic challenges.
Parallelism has taken center stage, and the current political stalemate has left citizens shamelessly irreconcilable, even on blatantly reconcilable issues. For example, Ian Smith can never be wished better than anyone black in any way. Citizen journalism has come to widen the political/ideological chasm that leaves the country of Zimbabwe ontologically bleeding.
Our identity has value. Our identity as a nation is our mirror. Let us carry our vision, our philosophy, our history and our voices as black Zimbabweans. Do we see ourselves from an esteemed position that defines our destiny and our identity. While we must embrace the global nature of the contemporary worldview, let us also cherish the belief that we are local before we are global. We are Zimbabweans/Africans before being internationalized. Therefore, let us carry together our identity with our potentials and our capacities (work/competence/mortality).
Merchant and ordered identities only work to challenge our subjugated positions that we inherited from inhuman colonialism before independence. The way out of such pitfalls lies in the vitality and dynamism of our media to articulate our own issues and our undoubted relevance and potentials in the global sphere. Only blind journalism will castigate an individual’s dark self.
The pen, the camera and the microphone define who we are less than the mind that spews out thoughts that are in turn spewed out by the pen; than the hand holding the camera at an angle decided by the hand; than the voice (tone/pitch, etc.) coming through the mic.
We must therefore ask ourselves: whose mind? Whose hand? What a voice ? In all of this, we need not be blind to the cardinal principles of journalism or the canons of journalism: fairness and objectivity in reporting; balanced and timely production of information, etc. This brings us to the watchful nature of journalism as a profession. But the issues raised above also lead us to solution-oriented and patriotic journalism; a journalism that preaches peace more than it corrodes our identity and integrity no matter what.
Our minds, hands and voices can define patriotism and carry the nationalist ego that embellishes our identity. The propensity to glorify others and not oneself is self-degrading and self-hating. We do not solve internal problems by inviting neighbors to preside and take charge of our farm affairs. Patriotic journalism is not about singing for your supper, but about imagining and reimagining your identity.
Patriotic journalism expresses bewilderment, shock, and surprise when you don’t see your image after appearing on the surface of a glass mirror. The jingoist media choirs are an expression of discovery and rediscovery of one’s identity: singular and group identity.
At the same time, scolding and scolding media have existed since time immemorial: at nhimbes, funerals and other platforms. Freedom of speech and expression is with us and celebrated long before certain races appropriated the concepts of future cultural/informational marketing.
Therefore, it is axiomatic that we continue to embrace and cherish freedom of speech and expression as enshrined in international and regional charters such as the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Declaration of Windhoek in 1991. This makes us part of the global family.
Media texts, as written, expressed and photographed, define and shape the public’s worldview and provide models for attitudes and behaviors. A modestly portrayed identity defines, portrays and perpetuates traditional racist stereotypes. Flooding the media with colonialist nostalgia is retrograde and a form of underdevelopment. Can those who lived through and endured colonialism wish the slave traders were better than Ian Smith?
Embrace journalism as a nation-building enterprise: what are the underlying messages of our media content and what interests do they serve? Patriotic journalism must strive to save national interests and unite citizens in its normative functions of education, information and entertainment.
Communication strategies and image building are the cornerstones of media and communication practices in any progressive nation. The Zimbabwe we market is the Zimbabwe that consumers of our information conjure up in their minds.
The stories we tell about our past and our present decide the Zimbabwe we want to build; the significant value of the images constructed through our reporting is the reference of the appropriation or antipathy of future generations towards their own country.
The social responsibility role of the media mutually depends on the journalist who manages the media, whose journalist depends on the owner and the funder of the media.
Nationalist journalism rebukes all social vices and at the same time embellishes the virtues of the nation it saves. Zimbabwe needs unifying journalism, which does not glorify the flowers and the rock gardens next door, but journalism which reflects the way forward for the country.
Rockeries and flowers next to it should not exclusively decide our interests, but can only be considered as indicators of some kind of beauty. In this context, professional journalism is based on solid research, not on malice and political polarity. Valid and reliable research is rooted in a particular geographic and historical context.
Zimbabwe is experiencing a divisive journalism which, if power and economics are left unchecked, will see irreparable damage to our nation.
Even in the face of catastrophic pandemics like Covid-19; in the face of deadly natural disasters like cyclones and in the face of sensitive but decisive phenomena like the plebiscites that determine the country’s future, Zimbabwe endures incendiary and divisive journalism. But the big question is: to what end? Let us all remember that railway lines do not meet, even in a bend, they remain parallel. Should human minds be like this? It will be just as epidemic and/or cyclonic!
Needless to say, our journalism is orbiting in a global village that extrapolates our metrics so that we are also influenced by global trends. The only conscious step to watch is this: is our take-off an inward movement (global to local) or an outward movement (local to global)? Or is it still? What informs our identity? Our vision; our cultural memory and philosophy; our history and our voices should be our journalistic echo chambers.
These echo chambers must be our starting points and guide us.
Spirit, hand and voice define patriotism as we desire it. The love of one’s country is reflected through the images that the mind constructs, the images that the pens in the hand and the images that the voice echoes. The media can project the thought of the mind; the image produced by a hand and the attitude and emotion produced by the echoes of the voice through their role as watchdogs.
l Dr Gift Gwindingwe is a Lecturer in the Department of English and Media Studies at Great Zimbabwe University and writes on his own.