Editorial Comment: When media brew storms in tea cups

THOUGH it was a typical case of let he who has not sinned cast the first stone in light of the likelihood that almost every human being, at one time or another missed a step or stumbled on something, some sections of our media treated the issue of President Mugabe’s near fall as a novelty.

We do not deny that given President Mugabe’s stature, every little occurrence in his life not only interests the public, but can be of public interest.

However, journalism ethics still call for moderation and balance.

The basic rule of fairness is very easy to recall, it is the A + B + C + D + E of the profession.

If a story has these five components Accuracy + Balance + Completeness + Detachment + Ethics, the result is Fairness.

This was not the case with the way some sections of the Zimbabwean private and Western media reported the story of President Mugabe’s tripping at the airport.

President Mugabe on Wednesday tripped over a poorly-laid out carpet at Harare International Airport, but remarkably managed to break the fall before walking to his car unscathed.

The incident was met with celebratory headlines around the world, with many linking it to the President’s age and alleged poor health.

But as we report elsewhere in this issue, the President went about his official business as normal yesterday.

Ironically, just seconds earlier, the President had admonished the media for specialising in non-issues.

The President’s wise counsel fell on deaf ears as Zimbabweans yesterday woke up to screaming headlines about the incident.

“Mugabe falls” screamed the NewsDay without providing pictures of a sprawling President.

The headline, at the denotative level, implied the end of the President’s political career.

Not to be outdone, the Daily News weighed in with: “Mugabe falls down stairs . . . collapse shocks party bigwigs and supporters.’’ However, no shocked supporters or bigwigs were shown and neither was there any collapse to talk about.

On reading the stories, we are sure many readers felt short-changed because there was a clear intention to dupe them over the incident which the papers failed to back up.

And the alleged confiscation of cameras and deletion of footage by the security team is standard fare anywhere in the world that is what they are paid to do, protecting their boss.

The bottom line, however, the reader was conned of his/her hard-earned cash as the sensational stories were at variance with the excitable headlines.

While we do not deny that there was an element of news value in the incident given President Mugabe’s stature, ethical practice still bids the media concerned to report the incident as it was, in line with the fairness formula.

We are reminded here of the case of the so-called Magunje woman whom the Daily News claimed was beheaded by Zanu-PF youths when no such incident had occurred.

It was all a figment of some reporter’s fertile imagination.

The curse of the Magunje woman, Brandina Tadyanemhandu, seems to be haunting our colleagues on the other side of town.