Editor’s Memo: No Special Favours

OF late we have been flooded by complaints on our coverage of the current power-sharing talks.

 

We have always got criticism and protests almost every Friday over this issue, but the frequency is rising at an alarming rate.

Last week we got a candid and compelling complaint from a knowledgeable and honest political player who was not pleased with our lead story.

His charge was simple and straightforward. Paraphrased, it amounted to saying the way we are covering talks is tantamount to aiding and abetting a blatant political deception of a gargantuan magnitude by Morgan Tsvangirai. He felt truth has become the first casualty in these talks. The politician did not use malicious labels or fume menacingly as some always do. He was frank and polite.

However, we differed with him. We simply pointed out it’s not true we are by design reporting the talks in aid of a political deception to conveniently explain away why Tsvangirai had not signed the power-sharing agreement as his complaint seemed to suggest.

We disagreed on this point because we feel we have been trying hard – even though it’s very difficult in such a politically-polarised society – to reflect all sides of a convoluted running story.

Complaints always rain on us from Zanu PF, the MDC led by Tsvangirai and the other faction headed by Arthur Mutambara. The Zanu PF refrain is that we support the MDC, which is false. Tsvangirai’s camp claims we are sympathetic to Mutambara’s faction, also blatantly wrong and the Mutambara faction alleges we support Tsvangirai’s party, which is untrue. Others say we support Simba Makoni. This is also untruthful.

For the record, the Zimbabwe Independent does not support any political party. Individuals, including the publisher may, but the newspaper as an institution does not –– end of story.

In all these assumptions, twisted interpretations or irrational consistency by some of the complainants, are usually the basis of such disingenuous conclusions. The under-developed logic applied here especially by Zanu PF mandarins is that “an enemy of my friend is also my enemy or a friend of my friend is also my friend”.

In Zimbabwe if you criticise Mugabe you are necessarily supposed to be pro-Tsvangirai, if you criticise Tsvangirai you are pro-Mugabe or pro-Mutambara and if you criticise Mutambara you are pro-Tsvangirai.

By this warped logic if you are opposed to Mugabe’s regime, it means you are automatically democratic. This is plain nonsense. And most honest readers would acknowledge as much. In the real world it doesn’t work like that.

For all we care to know, Tsvangirai might turn out to be a dictator just like Mutambara could be one.

The signs are clear. Unless contained, the MDC factions and their leaders could easily become authoritarian. Their behaviour and deeds from time to time suggest this. Apart from that, there are precedents from all over Africa including here.

Who would have thought in 1980 that Mugabe would end up presiding over such a repressive corrupt and incompetent regime except those close or clued-up enough to make an honest and informed assessment?

Despite early signs of autocracy, most people, including the media, were unwilling or unable to subject Mugabe to elementary democratic scrutiny and containment. In fact, the media and the population were complicit. He was given a blank cheque and there we have it now –– reaping what we sowed!

Parties, leaders and their policies must always be put under the spotlight to ensure accountability and transparency. No leader should be allowed a free rein or appear to be above criticism.

Our job is to provide the platform for different views. We always want to ensure that our paper is a market place of ideas, not a propaganda stand for any party or anyone. We play a watchdog role on society, apart from the banal function of informing, educating and entertaining.

In the process of doing this, we want to write stories which are accurate, balanced and truthful. We would love to be objective, but we know that is largely a myth. Studies have shown this.

Instead of indulging in romantic pursuits, we seek to achieve a variety of journalism based on fact, fairness, and accuracy to arrive at the truth.

This is our business. It’s an entangling enterprise, but certainly we do try to stick to our watchdog mandate in a professional and ethical way.

No doubt we have had our own vicissitudes, just like any other media house. We have made mistakes –– in fact so many of them during the last 12 years of our existence –– but that’s part of the learning curve. No matter what mistakes we make, we however remain committed to professional and ethical journalism. We will not waver on that.

As such we will not package propaganda as news. We may be found to be practising political or advocacy journalism in some or most cases. Fair-minded critics say our coverage slant is more towards advocacy journalism.

Of course, malicious detractors say we are partisan or we have become an opposition press. Fair and fine, but we are not and won’t be a propaganda sheet or mouthpiece for anyone.

By Dumisani Muleya