NewsDay: Lack of Wisdom, hypocrisy and confusion

Tichaona Zindoga Acting Editor
It would have been a little funny — and thrilling in a sort of way — to find myself on the front page of a local daily, NewsDay, over a small professional spar.

Only it ceased to be funny this last Saturday when NewsDay ran a story purporting to “expose” “lies” that The Herald allegedly published regarding an ongoing plot by non-governmental organisations and actors, including a named NewsDay journalist, to launch violent protests against the Government.

The story in the NewsDay, which beamed the pictures of the Acting Editor and News & Politics Editor of The Herald — Lawson Mabhena — is a sham and fraud in many ways that even embarrassed some well-meaning colleagues there.

Much worse, it exposed the editor, Mr Wisdom Mdzungairi, in ways he may have not conceived by employing subterfuge and bush tactics that clearly have no place in the praxis of, and interactions within journalism.

One thinks of Mark Deuze and his famous conceptualisation of the “ideology of journalism” in 1978.

Deuze teaches us about the professional identity of journalists, the social cement that holds us together in an occupational ideology. Deuze argues that conceptualising journalism as an ideology — rather than, for example, other options offered in the literature such as a profession, an industry, a literary genre, a culture or a complex social system — primarily means understanding journalism in terms of how journalists give meaning to their newswork.

Says Deuze: “Journalists in all media types, genres and formats carry the ideology of journalism. It is therefore possible to speak of a dominant occupational ideology of journalism on which most newsworkers base their professional perceptions and praxis, but which is interpreted, used and applied differently among journalists across media . . . Ideology is seen here as an (intellectual) process over time, through which the sum of ideas and views — notably on social and political issues — of a particular group is shaped, but also as a process by which other ideas and views are excluded or marginalised . . .”

There is a whole scholarly enterprise around how journalists view themselves as an industry and how they relate.

In Zimbabwe, a major point that has come to bring forth a lot of introspection on the idea of journalism — the ideology and occupation — regards polarisation. Our  industry is sharply divided as a function of ownership, control and politics.

This point is relevant in my discussion of the NewsDay and the complete fraud of its story on Saturday.

It has to be recorded that Mr Mdzungairi last Friday called us complaining about our implicating his paper in the anti-Government plot.

We tolerated him as a colleague — and such interaction is not uncommon. He is an industry senior and former employee of Zimpapers, publishers of The Herald.

While he complained about the story — in a headmasterly tone that would otherwise not have been tolerated but for our politeness — he gave a mini pseudo-lecture about media polarisation and how we journalists ought not to write about each other, etc.

We are not political parties or civil society (organisations) who he had no qualms writing about, he said.

He said he did not want “war” (in his words) and that he had held peace with previous editors of The Herald.

And throughout the conversation Mr Mdzungairi kept insisting that, as a former employee of The Herald, he knew that we would do “projects”.

Again, those were his own words. All he got from us was polite acknowledgment of his concerns, and indeed the valid unwritten rule that “we should not write about each other”.

It was then utter shock the following morning to see Mr Mdzungairi having printed the conversations, only sinking lower to manufacture quotes and putting his contrived words about “special projects” into our mouths.

There was another word that he ascribed to the writer — probity — which not once passed through these lips. Now, this is shameful and hypocritical for a man seeking to defend his and the integrity of his paper.

Mr Mdzungairi surreptitiously recorded a private conversation between himself and colleagues — a crime in journalism — and did a shoddy work of it.

One is not also lost to the hypocrisy of Mr Mdzungairi who used one corner of his mouth to preach against polarisation and another to slander colleagues to save his flailing integrity and his troubled publication. Some of us who have travelled a bit and got more education abroad know that it is not the kind of Mr Mdzungairi’s antics that will save his paper in light of buffeting challenges to the business.

But then, Mr Mdzungairi has a rather miserable reputation for dishonesty, that goes down to his very character.

On this other side of town, younger journalists who came to The Herald after him have been brought up to know him as an example of a dishonest and dubious character.

Hardly elevating.

It will also be called to mind that 68 days ago, Mr Trevor Ncube, the owner of Alpha Media Holdings — publishers of NewsDay — publicly disowned and felt embarrassed by a story that passed through Mr Mdzungairi’s hands.

Mr Ncube called to question his editors’ probity saying, “…This is an example of our blind spots/biases colouring our world view contributing to polarisation. While I maintain my newspapers are not me/I am not my newspapers — I am embarrassed. Sincere apologies to Zimbabwe.”

Mr Mdzungairi is hardly a paragon of personal and professional virtue.

And on Saturday, he just brought out the worst in him. In his narrow mind, he wanted to portray The Herald as fickle and without values.

He also calculated that our sources would cease to trust us with stories on the basis of lack of trust. We would never reveal our sources to anyone, much less our competitors. We treat their identity as sacrosanct.

That Mr Mdzungairi would imagine “special projects” is entirely his demons to deal with.

Equally, we are not responsible for the acts of treachery that some of our colleagues and their civil society acolytes engage in as they get their hands dirty through donor money intended to effect regime change in Zimbabwe.

And we also know newspaper organisations that have lived off this filthy lucre — from having newsprint donated to them to getting money via offshore accounts so that they play the role of the voice of the opposition within the illegal regime change matrix against Zimbabwe.

We are not confused about our place in defending the national interest — even if it means war that Mr Mdzungairi wanted and just waged on us.

Such is as simple as wisdom (no pun intended) could come.