THE media silly season is upon us following the release of the latest Zimbabwe All Media Products Survey (Zamps) results which always provoke a storm of controversy as self-interested organisations engage in popularity contests, while singing self-praises in a bid to consolidate their market positions.
Report by Dumisani Muleya
For the record, we have always been sceptical about Zamps even when its findings are favouarable to us. So this is certainly not a new concern but a growing one.
Daily newspapers, in particular, like engaging in self-serving interpretations, with dubious extrapolations and inferences, about Zamps which seek to measure what people buy, watch, listen to and read.
The state-controlled daily Herald, in the market since 1891 although badly struggling with fledgling competition, sought to make the most of Zamps, via a front page story, editorial and cartoon, in a silly way which betrayed its deep-seated insecurity, yet insulting the intelligence and wisdom of its readers.
While the Herald has a right to claim to be the most read newspaper in the market (if we are to believe Zamps), what it concealed from its readers is that the same survey shows its readership since the last review has plunged by a huge 10%, showing it’s on a slippery slope.
It fell from 41% to 34% during the last survey and now from 34% to 31% –– a massive cumulative plunge. But all that was hidden in a dishonest pursuit for bigger readership and super-profits.
For years now, we have been arguing among colleagues about the accuracy, let alone the relevance, of Zamps statistics. You only need to have a rough idea of the print runs and circulation figures of different media groups in this market to appreciate the reality gap between Zamps and what’s happening on the ground.
Of course, readership and circulation are different but surely there is a correlation, which Zamps always ignores. That is why the Zimbabwe Advertising Research Foundation (ZARF), which commissions Zamps, must do an audited circulation of all the newspapers so that Zamps findings can be tested and verified, to prevent them being used as hostage to fortune by mostly dailies hooked to puerile posturing.
What is probably off-putting about this self-glorification is not just the childish boasting part of it which doesn’t make any real difference in terms of credibility (the media’s core asset), advertising and viability, but that it’s vainly done in the name of readers who may disagree given an opportunity.
ZARF and Herald editors might be interested in reading online comments by readers of Wednesday’s scandalous front page story headlined Herald the “most complete, balanced newspaper”. The comments are interesting and revealing. That’s why it’s healthy to be sceptical about Zamps.
The Herald’s delusions of grandeur, legitimised by Zamps, form the footrest of its self-praise fuelled byself-doubt. If indeed the paper is “most complete and balanced” why does it have to be surprised and crow about it? If it is common cause, why is it newsworthy? The reason why this is hyped is because everybody knows it’s not true.
This ridiculous claim can only be true if the inherent assumption is that the paper is dealing with stupid readers. For the definition of stupidity sometimes is that of someone who reads, sees and experiences the truth but even then still believes lies.
It might be helpful for Herald editors, whom we know are knowledgeable and competent guys despite state shackles around them, to remember bragging is not a sign of confidence. It always proves counterproductive when it is communicated to a well-informed, rational and enlightened population like ours. Self-praise occasionally succeeds with ignorant and gullible audiences; rarely with those who are knowledgeable.
The point is simple. ZARF and Zamps have lost credibility. Even if there are serious shifts and changes in the market in terms of print runs and circulation, their results are always more or less the same. It’s a template.
The underlying assumption by Zamps is that there is no correlation between circulation and readership. Surely, this sort of deception and ineptitude is not helpful.
There could be a reason why this is happening. Conspiracy theories aside, a former ZARF/Zamps employee once told us the problem is not so much about the methodology but manipulation of the research and fabrication of data. He also said quantitative interviews allegedly conducted are mostly imagined stuff and cooked up. We don’t know, but anything is possible in this sort of situation.
What we do know, however, is that we need audited circulation figures. To ensure transparency and accountability, print runs, sales and returns must be subjected to an independent audit. This is international best practice, not this brazen Zamps fraud.