IN a bid to tighten its grip on media training, the government has ordered lecturers at the School of Journalism and Media Studies at the Harare Polytechn
ic to recruit aspiring students who have undergone National Youth Service training among other relevant courses.
This has led to delays in the recruitment process as applications were supposed to have been submitted by September 29. Up to now it is unclear when the selection process will commence.
Lecturers at the journalism school are contesting the government directive compelling them to recruit only students who have completed their National Youth Training service.
Government recently ordered the college to ensure that students for the mass communication diploma must have completed national youth training and provide proof of having undertaken community work.
A statement from the vice-principal (training), Runyararo Magadzire, notifying the School of Journalism and Media Studies of new enrolment procedures says aspiring students should be 21 years old and have “passed through training centres, have undertaken community work, and possess 5 Ordinary levels passes and 2 passes at Advanced levels. Physically-challenged applicants will be automatically enrolled as long as they meet the minimum entry qualifications.
Part of the document reads: “The prospective candidates should be able to prove their national consciousness by way of civic issues and other related issues of national interest and show ability to enunciate developmental and national issues like HIV/Aids and the media in general.”
Magadzire was appointed chairperson of the panel of selectors, assisted by a senior lecturer from the department of National and Strategic Studies and two external selectors, one from the Media and Information Commission (MIC) and the other one from a “reputable” media house recommended by the MIC.
The head of the School of Journalism and Media Studies, plus two lecturers, one from printing and the other from broadcasting, will complete the panel of selectors.
Under the provisions of the restrictive Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa), the MIC, chaired by Tafataona Mahoso, should facilitate training of student journalists. The legislation does not specify that the MIC should direct the training and recruitment of trainee journalists.
Mahoso declined to comment saying he was no longer at Harare Polytechnic and is not in a position to comment on issues related to the institution.
Bill Saidi, who chairs the advisory board for the institute, said the government was trying to instill a wrong type of patriotism in trainee journalists.
“This is a tragedy for Zimbabwe media as the government by pushing for patriotism will be creating uncritical journalists,” Saidi said.
“I believe that if you destroy one’s ability to be curious you have destroyed that person.”
Saidi said he would advise the college to even take the ministry to court, as academic freedom cannot be sacrificed for the sake of an unquestioning type of democracy.
In the past government set a quota for colleges to recruit from the national training centres.
According to a recent report by a parliamentary committee, enrolment at national youth training centres widely viewed by opposition parties, churches and civic organisations as indoctrination camps of the ruling Zanu PF party, has plummeted by more than 700% owing to lack of funding.
Government says the centres are meant to instill discipline and patriotism in the youth trainees.
But youths have shunned the centres due to frustrations over lack of job opportunities after they graduate, while the public has grown suspicious about the role of the youths. Most have been turned into ruling party militia.
The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Youth Development report said: “Currently, out of the eight national youth service centres, two are functional although they are operating at under capacity. Each centre has the capacity of accommodating up to 1 500 students but presently enroll 200 students due to inadequate resources.”
A lecturer at the journalism school, who declined to be named, questioned why aspiring students need to have completed the national youth.
“The government is trying to militarise media schools,” the lecturer said.
“Age and national service have no correspondence with one’s performance as a journalist. It is the skills they acquire here that make them good journalists, not issues,” he said.
The lecturer also noted that the directive would disadvantage urban youths who want to train as journalists. This in a way is a means for the government to entice youths to join the National Service, he said.
He said in the past lecturers have had problems with students who come through the youth centres as most of them were used as classroom spies who report to the principal’s office on the happenings at the college.
Such behaviour robbed students of their academic freedom as they feared being reported to the principal regarding class discussions.