THE vicious personal attacks that Faith Zaba suffered following her appointment as editor of one of Zimbabwe’s leading newspapers was unprecedented in the country’s media history
The shameful assault of a colleague had very little to do with her qualifications for the job, her work record or potential as an editor. So it is 2019 and some Zimbabwean journalists — mostly men — are unwilling to tolerate female media managers rising to take up the mantle at our major media houses. Stereotypes still cloud our perceptions of appointments, task performance and our biases.
Zaba, a veteran female scribe, smashed through a thick glass ceiling in the media industry this month, becoming the first woman to assume the editorship at the weekly Zimbabwe Independent.
The moment the appointment of Zaba was made, WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter lit up with complaints about her promotion. On some journalists’ media WhatsApp groups, a lot of sexually abusive language was used. They hurled insults and complained bitterly about her appointment.
Women in media are used to men criticising them. On Zaba’s appointment, a lot of things they do not like about her were said. Is the hate something to do with jealousy, hating everything to do with the appointment of women in the media? They should tell us honestly. The backlash was severe, with some mainly male colleagues whining bitterly on information drawn from gossip.
To their credit, some male colleagues joined a majority of women journalists in criticising those who we were waging attacks on Zaba, pointing out their hypocrisy.
All we know is that Zaba is a seasoned journalist. She has risen through the ranks in the industry to her latest position at the Independent, much the same way as some of her male compatriots have done so in the past without the accompanying noise and criticism.
The negative online reaction to Zaba’s appointment was steeped in sexism, with comments, mostly from men, ridiculing her appointment, all the while claiming their critiques had nothing to do with sexism. Women who are highly visible, particularly in settings that are traditionally male-dominated, will experience backlash.
They pointed out that it was important to celebrate the deserved achievements of a new generation of Zimbabwean women media workers: Susan Makore, Victoria Ruzvidzo, Happiness Zengeni, Ruth Butaumocho, Nomsa Nkala, among others.
Zimbabwe has committed itself to work towards gender equality, and the small and big steps that we are seeing in the media must be encouraged. When there is justification for professional criticism, we should tackle the problem without gender biases.
Celebrating our men
Without malice or unfairly straying into their personal lives, we should equally celebrate the rise of Guthrie Munyuki to Daily News editor-in-chief, Hama Saburi, Herbert Zharare, Lovemore Mataire, Tichaona Zindoga, Gilbert Nyambabvu, Wisdom Mudzungairi, Nqaba Matshazi and Morris Mkwati, among others.
Online reaction from male colleagues in the media has hardly crossed the professional boundaries into the personal space when other men have been promoted, suggesting serious gender prejudices in the approach to issues.
The prejudicial reaction by some colleagues to Zaba’s promotion should serve as a lesson — a lesson learnt — on how we should discuss professional issues and problems in the industry honestly, but fairly too.
This must apply to all problems, including how we conduct and manage our work spaces.As the media we need to thrive in real and honest interactions that see one’s promotion — whether male or female — as aiming to maximise a company’s productivity.
Zaba says she remains strong and will not use her own case to be drawn into the personal lives of some of the colleagues who were attacking her.
Harassment, other problems
Zimbabwe’s media industry is grappling with issues of accurate, fair and balanced reporting, general skills development, gender mainstreaming, sexual harassment in the industry, corruption and nepotism.
A gender-sensitive approach by the media should be to treat everybody fairly on professional grounds without scandalously ignoring the scandals and problems that must be confronted in the sector.
It is the long stretches of silence that we have seen around these issues that make the Zaba case a good foundation to appeal for fair play, and to continue striving for a gender equal and sensitive media industry.
Abigail Gamanya, national director,
Gender and Media Connect.