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Zim journalists still singing the blues

WHEN Zvikomborero Gotora (not real name) graduated from the Harare Polytechnic’s Division of Mass Communication six years ago with a diploma in journalism after a two-year study, he was relieved that at last he could realise his dream of working as a reporter.

Report by Hazel Ndebele

He was hopeful of securing employment soon enough for he had worked well during his attachment stint, with several stories published under his byline.

Sadly, it was not to be. His dreams gradually turned into a nightmare when months of job seeking became years despite promises from within the media industry.

Gotora has spent six years as a freelance reporter, eking out a living by writing stories for online and several local publications under an assumed name. With the local media largely remaining stagnant despite the licencing of scores of players to start publishing and broadcasting, Gotora’s prospects of securing a permanent job remain gloomy.

The situation is made worse by the emergence of digital and social media which are rocking the print media sector as newspapers face the threat of extinction.

“I do not regret choosing journalism as a career because it is something I really wanted to do and I felt I could get far in the profession,” said Gotora. “But the stark reality is that the industry just cannot absorb the many media graduates being churned out by the colleges as it is not expanding, but the situation is not unique to media graduates only. The country’s economy remains depressed and the majority of Zimbabweans are unemployed.”

As Zimbabwe joins other countries in commemorating World Press Freedom Day today, it should be a moment to reflect on the fact that thousands of journalism students graduate from different institutions countrywide every year, but fail to find jobs in the industry because the media industry has not grown over the years.

In fact, the media as originally structured is in decline due to the digital revolution and social media explosion. Besides economic viability problems, the media is also under political pressure.

The media is also currently battling for the right to self-regulate like other professional disciplines, in the face of continued resistance from government.

Private media practitioners continue to face harassment and occasional arrests under legislations such as Public Order and Security Act and Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, widely criticised as “draconian”, although those in the state media are spared.

While applauding the draft constitution for explicitly guaranteeing media freedom and freedom of expression, media experts say it appears like more of a privilege than a fundamental right.

Vice-chairperson of the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe Cris Chinaka was quoted as saying: “The media industry has clearly and loudly said it wants self-regulation. We want it to be explicit in the constitution, especially coming from a period where we had repression of media practitioners.”

Some private media journalists and stakeholders say co-regulation is the way forward since statutory and voluntary regulation have failed.

The stagnation of the media industry has forced many journalism graduates to settle for other jobs unrelated to what they studied, such as teaching.
Brian Mangwende, the chairperson of the Zimbabwe National Editors’ Forum (Zinef), urged the inclusive government to genuinely open up the airwaves and expand
media space for more players to come on board thus creating employment.

“Although it must be noted that government has begun to play its part in opening up media space, there is need to go a step further in order for the industry to accommodate more players and many students being churned out by our training institutions,” Mangwende said.

Mangwende said there is need for constant refresher courses to enable journalists to keep up with professional trends.

Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (Zuj) secretary-general Foster Dongozi said to improve employment prospects for journalists there was need to open up the airwaves.

“Government needs to grant licences to more magazines, newspapers and broadcasters to tackle this (unemployment) problem so that one day we can celebrate World Press Freedom Day by taking stock of achievements in the industry,” said Dongozi.

“More than 3 000 students of media studies and journalism graduate annually from different institutions in the country,” said Dongozi. “Given an opportunity, these students will bring valuable input to the industry which is why there are journalists from Zimbabwe who are scattered all over the world and doing well.”
Dongozi said there were also other problems in the media.

“Zuj has begun a campaign to ensure sexual harassment is addressed and dealt with. We are in the process of carrying out a scientific survey to find out the extent and effects of sexual harassment on female students and permanent employees in order to tackle this problem,” he said.

Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe executive director Takura Zhangazha said graduates are finding it difficult to secure employment because Zimbabwe’s few media organisations cannot accommodate them due to limited resources.

“There are restrictive legal requirements to start up radio and television stations and newspapers, therefore government should look into this in order to grant the media a chance to diversify,” said Zhangazha.

He said the absence of investment and profound media reforms ensured unemployment remains high in the industry.

The Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe has previously accused the inclusive government of letting the media down by rushing to conclude other national processes before implementation of key media reforms agreed to under the Global Political Agreement. It said during the inclusive government’s four-year tenure, insufficient attempts had been made to reform media laws.

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