AS the media in Zimbabwe, there are many good things we cherish, one of them is a new Constitution that guarantees Press freedom in sections 61 and 62, especially Section 61 that deals with freedom of expression and freedom of the media.
Such freedom, however, calls for responsibility as we go about our duty of informing, educating and entertaining the nation.
We do the nation a disservice whenever we throw ethics out of the window as we then fall short in our professed noble objectives and aspiration to be the fourth critical pillar of the State.
While as The Herald, we respect the editorial autonomy of our colleagues, we nevertheless take exception to the coverage of the so-called demonstration against President Mugabe by a handful of disgruntled United Party for National Development supporters who were camped at their campaign headquarters at Radisson Blu Hotel in Lusaka during the just-ended presidential by-election.
On learning that their preferred candidate Mr Hakainde Hichilema had lost to Mr Edgar Lungu of the Patriotic Front, the UPND supporters began chanting, “Mugabe must go” as they apparently believed lunatic fringe media reports that Zanu-PF had funded the PF campaign. It is important to note that President Mugabe was not even at the venue of the so-called demonstration as he was staying at the Lusaka Inter-continental Hotel several kilometres away.
Mainstream Zambian media naturally ignored the UPND sideshow, which occurred just after Mr Hichilema held a press conference, after the announcement of the presidential by-election results by the Electoral Commission of Zambia.
It was then that a handful of UPND supporters who had been drinking to deal with the electoral loss began chanting the “Mugabe Must Go” mantra that has become synonymous with opposition elements in Zimbabwe with whom they bear an uncanny resemblance.
It is worth noting that the Patriotic Front is on record saying its name down to the party symbols and slogan were inspired by Zanu-PF.
This may have prompted the UPND supporters to mistake President Mugabe’s presence in Zambia for a PF solidarity jaunt yet the President, just like dignitaries from other African countries, was invited to the ceremony in his dual capacities of Head of State and Government of Zimbabwe and chairman of Sadc, to which both Zimbabwe and Zambia are members.
In fact it was because of President Mugabe’s chairmanship of Sadc that he was given a slot to address Zambians at the inauguration ceremony.
While Zambian media identified the UPND charade for what it was, a non-event, that was not the case for one correspondent with Al Jazeera who quickly tweeted a video of the so-called demonstration which was picked by sections of the Zimbabwean media, both mainstream private and the ubiquitous lunatic fringe that litter social media.
This was despite the fact that the story failed to meet the five most essential qualities of objectivity, completeness, factualness, accuracy and fairness.
The exercise of press freedom requires the observance of these tenets that make us a profession, but the so-called demonstration story was not only incomplete but also lacked factualness, objectivity, fairness and accuracy.
This is precisely why the mainstream Zambian media and international press ignored it save for obscure social media which took a cue from a serially bitter Zimbabwean journalist whose own organisation, Al Jazeera, ignored the story.
Much was also made of President Mugabe’s arrival in Zambia while vote counting was still underway, but again any serious media would have known that Zambian authorities had invited the dignitaries in line with Zambian law that requires that inauguration be held no later than 48 hours after the announcement of the election winner.
Thus the real story was not that there was a demonstration, which was not the case anyway, the real story was the wish by the media here to have one, even going to the extent of imagining a demonstration that pseudo-analysts tried to cast in geo-political terms only to be contradicted by over 40 000 cheering Zambians who filled Heroes Stadium the next day.
It was indeed a sad day for Zimbabwean journalism but a pointer for the Information and Media Panel of Inquiry that all is not well with the media in Zimbabwe.
Let us exercise our freedom with responsibility.