World Book Day deserves honour

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I was going to continue with the Bill Cosby case again. I cannot go as far as I initially thought to. There is something nobler to tackle. April 23 was World Book Day.

By Admire Kudita

I did not see any commemorations and I did not read about the day in any local paper. It seems that we were all enamoured with the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair and the Thomas Mapfumo homecoming show. Thus, the day passed quietly. If it had been world movies day, we might have had a different scenario. I do not see people rushing to buy books from street corners with as much gusto as they do pirate DVDs.

Why books matter

If you find that you are in the regular company of people who only rave about soccer matches or cricket, perhaps you need to add new ones into your circle. How far can you go?

There has to be a point when the banter is about sharing new ideas of living. This is my opinion. Old Ian Smith, for all his faults had one thing right. He put libraries in the townships he built. I know because I lived in that kind of township. When there were gangs and other township distractions raging outside, the library was an oasis of tranquility.

Books were travelling guides into worlds afar. Books kept a restless youth from tipping over and being seduced by the township’s assortment of vices from petty hustling, card playing, weed and “bird watching”.

Books fed the curious mind. I recall going through whole encyclopaedias and classics such as The Trial of Dedan Kimathi, Things Fall Apart, Great Expectations, Tom Sawyer and even the Pacesetter series.

Books helped me get through. I retrieved this habit a few years ago. I admit to having lapsed because of too many television shows along life’s way such as Dynasty, Dallas and How To Get Away With Murder. I blame television for making me drop the habit.

World of books

World Book Day is a celebration! It must be seen as a celebration of authors, illustrators, books and (most importantly) the culture of reading. It is a day to celebrate the reading culture.

Designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) as a worldwide celebration of books and reading, and marked in over 100 countries all over the world, World Book and Copyright Day is officially to be marked on April 23 annually.

The first time the day was commemorated was in 1995. The day was first recognised by Spanish booksellers and by writer Vicente Clavel Andres, who observed that Miguel de Cervantes, a famous author of books such as Don Quixote, died on April 23.

Unesco decided that World Book Day would be marked on April 23, as it was also the death date of English literary giant William Shakespeare, as well as Inca Darcilaso de la Vega. Several other authors died on this particular date. Reading is a culture that is vital to the intellectual development of people within any society.

Press Freedom Day

Of concern to me and many of my journalist colleagues is the matter of Press freedom. The fourth estate in Zimbabwe has been assailed by such heinous acts of violence by our government that one can only balk at the level of intolerance.

The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act is a terrible piece of legislation. It is heinous. Yes, an assault on press freedom calculated to cower and subjugate the media into silence about the excesses of the executive. We just cannot deal. We persevere nonetheless.

The fourth estate

A few days ago at our press club, a ZBC camera crew came through and interviewed a couple of us concerning the working conditions of journalists. It was not a very inspiring moment to hear the narration. The profession may carry a tad bit of glamour but it is one of the least paid ones though this is not unique to the profession.

Other professionals are also crying for more pennies. Our situation is rather unique in a certain sense. Most journalists are freelancing or stringing for local and foreign media houses. The renumeration differs accordingly.

The level of exposure to poverty varies resultantly. When one is exposed to poverty, then one has hard choices to make.

The so-called brown envelope journalism becomes a real possibility. This is not a justification however. I personally do not subscribe to it. There is also no justification for any excesses sometimes associated with our profession such as inadequate research and even bias. But there are many prowling corrupters out there eager to suppress the stories that beg exposure.

Investigative journalism is therefore a vital element of a society that is serious about its progress and upward trajectory. We simply need to look at ourselves hard in the mirror and do our job to help create a more just and egalitarian society.

Support for journalists

We need newspaper owners and editors who can see the correlation between corruption and the downfall of their businesses. We need support to do our jobs properly and moreso when pursuing hot story leads. Editors must facilitate the investigation of stories.

Logistical support is therefore critical for journalists in the field. How else is a job to be done on some of our institutions which are holding us all back as a country? Moreover, we need the proper monetary incentives to do the job aside from the one about journalistic duty. Many in society are quite ambivalent about us as journalists. Some hate us outright for exposing the vice.

Some see us as a necessary evil. For example, the same former president Robert Mugabe, who presided over our torment, had the temerity to seek out foreign and independent media all the same, to help him tell his story in the aftermath of the coup that removed him from power. Had he succeeded in his awful desire to crush us out of existence, he would have had no recourse to tell his story.

Respect our trade

Personally, I suspect I may have lost a friend with whom I had a vicious cyber exchange over the role of the media. The “friendship” has since become uneasy.Basically we are accused of being unpatriotic for reporting negative stories about Government.

“Negative” stories are that way because the deeds reported are negative. Journalists do not get to make the stories negative. Crime is negative. Corruption is negative. We cannot as the press paint them lily pink for you. Fighting symptoms of a malady is the daftest of things to do. Fight the disease rather and the disease we have in Africa is mediocrity. It is cross cutting. It must be exposed and the puss must ooze and repulse us all. Our pens are the needles to puncture the boil.

Killing fields

There is a risk because they are killing us all over the world. At least 81 journalists were killed in 2017: according to an International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) report.

“Impunity for attacks and threats against journalists are at epidemic levels,” says IFJ.

The country where the largest number of journalists were killed was Mexico, followed by Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria according to the report quoted by Al Jazeera.

Anthony Bellanger, the general secretary of the IFJ, deplored the imprisonment of dozens of journalists as “deeply concerning”.

“We have more than 250 journalists in jail, and two-thirds of these journalists are in Turkey,” Bellanger told Al Jazeera.

Though we do not want to be killed they however cannot kill us all. A journalist is born every minute somewhere in the world and he or she will tell the story of what you are doing to pull back or push civilisation forward. We have not the luxury of sycophancy. Today we may not seem important to you. Wait for tomorrow. Or the day after . . . Respect our trade.

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