Zimbabwe National Editors’ Forum (ZINEF). Photo: IMS
Editors from across private and state owned Zimbabwean media gathered for the first time following the ousting of President Mugabe for the Zimbabwe National Editors’ Forum (ZINEF) on 16 December in Kadoma. The conference came at a time when Zimbabwe is preparing for its harmonized elections in 2018
With the theme: “Keeping the Media in Focus: Editors’ Preparedness Dialogue on Electoral and Governance Matters in Zimbabwe”, the conference was held at an opportune time in the political history of Zimbabwe.
It is the first caucus of the editors following a military assisted leadership succession within the ruling ZanuPf party. The contestations to succeed Zimbabwe’s long time ruler, Robert Mugabe, which played out in the form of a protracted factional battle within the country’s ruling party Zanu PF took a dramatic turn in November of 2017, ushering in new leadership for the country through a popularly supported military intervention. Ousted Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa took over as President raising an expectation for a shift towards a more democratic Zimbabwe. Various consultations among civil society, political parties and business are ongoing as Zimbabweans seek to grab this opportunity to direct the new political leadership towards a more unified and democratic Zimbabwe.
The conference, held with support from International Media Support (IMS), The European Union (EU) and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, also comes at a time when Zimbabwe is preparing for its harmonized elections in 2018 in a context where fundamentals of freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom have consistently been violated by the Mugabe-led government. Media laws remain restrictive and unaligned to the progressive constitution of 2013. The quality of the media has deteriorated amidst corruption, gender discrimination, political polarisation, media capture and rampant editorial interference. It is against this backdrop that the editors met in Kadoma.
Issues discussed at this conference included an outline of the context, electoral terrain, institutional, legal and technical signposts of the Zimbabwe electoral processes as well as key gender issues for the media to consider in the electoral context. The participants noted that shortfalls in the previous and current media coverage of the electoral processes include lack of in-depth and meticulous dissection of the electoral story in Zimbabwe. Speaking at this conference, the Editor of the Zimbabwe Independent, Mr Dumisani Muleya, who is also the chairperson of ZINEF, said the media in Zimbabwe is ill equipped to cover elections adequately.
“The media in Zimbabwe is urban-centric, it is does not have much capacity to cover the elections nationally in terms of resources, skills, technological, reach, and independence”, said Muleya. Muleya also encouraged Zimbabwean media to follow principles and standards of professional journalism adding that the media can be freer if they pushed back at all forms of interference and corruption.
Head of News and Current Affairs at CapiTalk Radio Station, Nyaradzo Makombe, lamented self-censorship saying that the ‘new political dispensation’ presents an opportunity for media to ‘change their tone’ and provide Zimbabweans with factual stories.
The conference participants grappled with gender discrimination in the media that was largely viewed to be a societal challenge beyond the media itself. However, the CEO of AB Communications, Mrs Susan Makore, said editors could do more to address gender discrimination at newsroom level. “Female journalists can do more with editors’ support and continuous capacity development and there is no need for editors to be condescending when it comes to deploying them to political stories and other hard bits because that is the job”, said Mrs Makore.
The subject of political and commercial interference was also topical at the conference after the conference facilitator, Mr Vincent Kahiya outlined best practices from other African countries and noted that Zimbabwe’s media tended to be partisan, power and cantered on individuals rather than being issue-based.
The conference ended with a declaration that condemned restrictive media laws, all forms of editorial interference, threats to the safety of journalists, culture of secrecy in state institutions as well as forms of corruption within the media. The declaration also stated the editors’ commitment to media professionalism and credibility, further capacity development of the media operators, as well as addressing gender discrimination in and by the media.
The National Coordinator of ZINEF, Mr Njabulo Ncube said the Kadoma conference is part of a broader strategy to enhance the knowledge of editors on diverse electoral issues upon a realization the media has in the past been found wanting in reporting and interpreting the electoral issues and reporting the elections themselves. Ncube also said the objective of this activity is to prepare editors towards more informed, credible and inclusive coverage of the electoral matters in Zimbabwe and to provide a platform for dialogue among editors and key electoral bodies towards addressing challenges faced by the Zimbabwe’s operators in covering the elections and electoral processes.
The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), the Election Resource Center and the Media Monitors Zimbabwe, were also represented at this conference and provided insights into the technicalities and key electoral reform areas the media should illuminate for the benefit of the electorate. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, which is the statutory electoral management body, was in no show after having confirmed attendance – a move that was widely condemned by the editors present.
The Editors’ conference was held with support from International Media Support (IMS), The European Union (EU) and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.