HomeCommentEditor's Memo

Editor’s Memo

Editors scramble

Vincent Kahiya

I HAVE received an invitation to attend a Southern African Editors’ Forum (SAEF) meeting in Malawi in two weeks’ time.

face=”Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif”>The organisers of the meeting are keen to see editors from the privately-owned press represented by the Zimbabwe National Editors’ Forum (Zinef) and state media editors under the Zimbabwe Association of Editors (ZAE) working together for the good of journalism.

A taskforce made up of editors from Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia resolved last year that Zimbabwean editors from both the private and public media “should realise that they have a professional duty, and should not allow themselves to be used by forces outside the ambit of their profession”.

The taskforce, said the editors, should establish a social club where they could meet and socialise with the aim of fostering closer working relationships and sharing of ideas.Zimbabwe’s editors had been expected to form one association by January 2004 ahead of an All-Africa Editors Forum in Kinshasa in April.

This did not happen and is unlikely to happen. There is no co-operation among editors in ZAE and those in Zinef. The chasm between the two bodies has continued to widen in the wake of the state’s frenzied assaults on the private media and those working in it.

This week, there was some feverish shuttle diplomacy by ZAE to lure Zinef to discuss the prospects of co-operation. ZAE failed to secure recognition from SAEF at a regional council meeting in Windhoek in June because “it did not truly represent the pluralistic nature of the media in Zimbabwe…”

ZAE has said it “is now ready to implement the SAEF resolutions and engage in dialogue with editors from all the independent media”.

This is not surprising as the Malawi meeting beckons. ZAE’s quest to reach out is commendable but sceptics are inclined to believe that it is an attempt by the association to clean up its act after its disastrous showing in Namibia.

Articles containing blatant falsehoods penned by ZAE delegate and Chronicle editor Stephen Ndlovu have been described by ZAEF as “an embarrassment to the profession of journalism”.

Ndlovu wrote that former Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe lawyer Gugulethu Moyo, in her address to a forum hosted by SAEF and Idasa in Windhoek, advocated war against Zimbabwe.

Ndlovu in another article alleged ZAE’s failure to win recognition from SAEF was instigated by Zinef chair Iden Wetherell and SAEF chair Henry Jeffreys.

Ndlovu, quoting “sources”, said Wetherell and Jeffreys, both of whom he claimed “had strong Boer links”, had conspired to have ZAE “thrown out”.

The claims were immediately denied by SAEF who issued a strong statement denouncing the Chronicle editor.

It said the articles were “a total distortion of the truth, contain(ed) substantial and obvious fabrications and therefore an unprofessional act unworthy of any journalist and editor”.

SAEF added: “Falsification of information by distortion and fabrication are unacceptable professional misconduct and further confirmation of the abuse of the press by the Zimbabwean authorities.”

The article was but one of many false stories and abusive pieces state papers have penned about journalists in the private press. Their agenda is undisguised. The editors of these papers are not looking for co-operation but are instead fulfilling the instructions of their political handlers. Now they are under pressure from regional colleagues, they suddenly want to work with us.

A unified editors’ forum cannot be fashioned out of a hate-filled environment when editors of state papers, hiding behind the façade of columnists, allow gratuitous insults to be heaped on editors of independent newspapers.

Nathaniel Manheru in the Saturday Herald, Mzala Joe in the Sunday News, and Lowani Ndlovu in the Sunday Mail have become agencies of hate speech. It is now the core business of these papers to churn out defamatory invective that has no place in publicly-owned media. This is an abuse of basic journalistic tenets which the Media and Information Commission, the state-appointed custodians of media ethics, has conveniently ignored.

I have exercised restraint in using this column to respond to, or trade insults with other editors because I believe that such exchanges do nothing to enhance public respect for the media. Editors should be self-respecting professionals who exercise complete control over their papers, instead of allowing them to become vehicles for government-inspired calumnies against their colleagues in the private sector.

We are prepared to engage in dialogue with state-media editors in the ZAE and a message to that effect has been sent to them. But discussion has to be built around adherence to journalistic norms and mutual respect. It is key that any meeting of minds should ensure that editors uphold media freedom and co-operate in areas such as training and improving media content. It should not just be designed to secure ZAE’s admission to SAEF.

Previous articleMuckraker
Next articleEditor’s Memo

Recent Posts

Stories you will enjoy

Recommended reading