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The state of journalism ethics in Zimbabwe
Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe
August 28, 2013

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This study represents an attempt at taking stock of the health of the journalism profession in terms of ethical norms and practices in Zimbabwe. It is informed by the view that journalism plays a critical role in social and political processes and practices, and that despite the numerous shifts that have taken place to the profession partly because of the Internet and other information and communication technologies, journalism ethics still represent a key legitimating factor in the relationship between the profession and the broader society.

The study is based primarily on qualitative interviews with local journalists and civil society actors whose work involves journalism and media. A secondary methodology involves close scrutiny of documentation on the socio-political economy of journalism practice in the country as well as elsewhere.

The critical aim is to get one’s finger on the pulse of the ethical well-being of the profession, and doing so through dissecting the narratives that emerge from the journalists themselves. While by no means exhaustive, it provides an insightful entry point into the state of the state of the so-called ‘noble profession’, a situation which all the journalists interviewed agreed was far from healthy. The terminology they deploy paints a rather gloomy picture from “intensive care” to “crisis”, from “terrible” to “gone to the dogs”.

Milder assessments simply refer to a profession that is facing “grave challenges”.

But then, to paraphrase the late Chinua Achebe, we perhaps need to step back and establish the point at which ‘the rain began to beat on us’ i.e., how, when and why did the profession become what it is now. Here the accounts vary.

Older journalists who practised in the early independence days of the 1980s through to the turbulent 90s and who have lived to see the ‘crisis now’ paint a fairly nolstagic picture of the 1980s and early 1990s when journalist still enjoyed significant agency visa-avis the constraining whims of the principals, whether political or corporate.

The journalistic autonomy, include financial autonomy given that the pay check was ‘much better’ then, is viewed as a central pillar to ethical practice. They point to 2000 as the annus horibilis of the profession, although not necessarily out of its won making. The governing Zanu-PF party, facing the most serious threat to its political security from the then newly formed MDC, reconfigured the state in profoundly authoritarian ways, creating a ‘military style’ cabinet whose public face was a Minister of Information and Publicity with extended powers to destroy journalistic autonomy both in the public and private media sectors.

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