When journalistic integrity is bendable


By Chido Makunike

THE Southern African Editors Forum (SAEF) has widely circulated a statement on a report of a meeting it co-hosted in Namibia, written by Chronicle editor Stephen Ndlovu

on June 10.


The SAEF statement rebuts what the organisation says were “blatant fabrications, distortions and mischief” in the report of the meeting, and in particular regarding the statements of former Daily News lawyer Gugulethu Moyo.


Ndlovu claimed Moyo had called for President Robert Mugabe’s regime to be toppled by military intervention. Fictional or not, the Herald and other state media liked the story so much they went to town with it.


The shock and outrage of SAEF at how Ndlovu’s report varied from what actually happened at the Windhoek meeting was almost palpable.


“The articles by Mr Stephen Ndlovu are an embarrassment to the profession of journalism (and) are dangerous lies from a poison pen that seeks to distort the truth.”


This is rather strong stuff!


Is Ndlovu an out and out liar masquerading as a journalist, or is there yet another imperialistic plot afoot to “tarnish the image” of a “revolutionary writer?”


Having once been “quoted” by him in a report he wrote for a paper he previously worked for, but without him ever having talked to me about the issue he was “quoting” me on, I have long wondered about the intrepid Ndlovu! Nor is this latest scandal the first time that the Chronicle under Ndlovu has been accused of being rather loose with the truth, to put it delicately.


I am reluctant to use SAEF’s harsh language, such as “the article in the Chronicle contains fabrications and factual errors…total distortion of the truth, substantial and obvious fabrications…unprofessional act unworthy of any journalist and editor!” Phew!


If SAEF’s charges against Ndlovu are true, then their disgust and outrage as well as their unprecedented, strongly worded and widely circulated statement is quite understandable. But even if Ndlovu’s story was “an alarming fabrication” or “part of a blatant disinformation campaign which runs counter to any hint at truth or professionalism”, as SAEF charges, it was unfortunately very much business as usual for much of our state media.


The shocking abuse of both Gugulethu Moyo and the Chronicle’s readers that SAEF accuses Ndlovu of in regards to his story is something we have become rather accustomed to in Zimbabwe. It is just one more aspect of how we are beaten down, not just physically by a repressive state apparatus that justifies its existence by a false Africanism and anti-imperialism, but are under constant psychological attack as well.


In the war of Mugabe’s regime against the people, any weapon is fair game. “The venom of the state machinery” and “the abuse of the press by the Zimbabwean authorities” that SAEF refers to are very much a part of the arsenal of repression.


I suspect there is bemusement in the corridors of the state propaganda machine at SAEF’s strong reaction to the hapless Ndlovu. I simply don’t think what SAEF regards as “falsification of information by distortion and fabrication” is necessarily considered to be “unacceptable professional conduct” by Jonathan Moyo’s propaganda apparatus.


Ndlovu and the Chronicle have easily escaped sanctions for previous alleged liberties with the truth and journalistic integrity, and there is little reason to believe things will be any different this time despite the sweeping scale of the allegations against him.


Those allegations could easily be verified or refuted given the public nature of the meeting in question and the number of people who were present when Gugulethu Moyo spoke. But I doubt that there will be too much interest by Ndlovu’s superiors to find out if he is a lying cheat as SAEF claims. It simply isn’t that big a deal!


For all I know he may be promoted for scoring a short-lived goal against Gugu Moyo, a critic of the president! After all, in the service of the “revolution” surely it must be permissible to bend facts just a little?

Can a state editor be really expected to stick to a rigid journalistic professionalism when the imperialist barbarians are at the gate, threatening to crash their way in and “reverse the gains of the third chimurenga” gallantly spearheaded by Cde Mugabe?


And as for what is “professional” conduct, well, that depends on who is doing the defining, doesn’t it? SAEF may have been shocked by fiction packaged as a news story, but who knows, to the president’s spin doctors that could be the height of “professionalism” as far as defending Mugabe’s regime!


One effect of the whole saga is to reveal how compromised Media and Information Commission chief Tafataona Mahoso is. He has all the power and full blessings of the state machinery to shut down newspapers even mildly critical of the regime he works for, but is apparently either completely powerless or disinclined to deal with fraud by a state editor!


Chief Superintendent Mahoso of the Thought Police and his real role have never been as blatantly exposed as they have been by his silence and inaction over the shocking alleged conduct of Ndlovu.


Under this regime, truth and journalistic integrity are simply bendable and expendable commodities to be used as another club with which to abuse a citizenry it damn well knows no longer supports it.


* Chido Makunike is a regular contributor to the Zimbabwe Independent.