On 1 June 2016 the nation woke up to a newspaper article in the Herald titled ‘horrified by the journalism than the smudge”. It is true that journalism standards in the country have gone down but this is not limited to the private media but also to state media. State media has repeatedly failed to serve all of its citizens preferring to promote partisan political interests disguised as national interest.
The crime of the private media was to publish an image said to be that of missing activist Itai Dzamara that his brother, Partson Dzamara, claims was leaked to him by secret state agents. The picture apparently conveyed the story that Itai Dzamara was being kept captive at an undisclosed location.
The face of the person in the picture was covered and it is impossible to tell who the person in that picture is. Addressing journalists at the media centre Partson Dzamara claimed that they had engaged experts who had identified the person in the picture as Itai Dzamara. It is unclear which methods these experts used to ascertain who the person in the picture is. The experts were not named as well.
Most private newspapers ran with the story and this is where the accusation of gutter journalism stems from. The writer of the Herald article went on to accuse Partson Dzamara of pushing a selfish agenda and engaging in attention seeking antics. The purpose of this article is not to defend Partson Dzamara or the media houses accused of gutter journalism but to point out the inefficiency of state media and law enforcement in the country.
The Herald itself did not carry the story on the said picture of Dzamara. It has however carried a number of articles in the aftermath that discredit the Dzamara story.
Ever since Itai Dzamara disappeared from a barbershop in Glenview 15 months ago state media has written negatively about his ordeal. Most of the articles have not been sympathetic and instead pointed an accusing finger at opposition parties and the west for allegedly hatching a plan to destabilise the government of President Robert Mugabe.
Some of the headlines that have appeared in the state controlled Herald include , ‘After Dzamara damp squib what next?” in reference to the march to commemorate his disappearance, ‘Tsvangirai hijacks Dzamara march” dismissing the march as nothing but political grandstanding. Other headlines include “Unpacking the Dzamara saga” which discredits Dzamara as both activist and journalist.
The Herald published an article “Dzamara investigation timeline revealed” which was published after a High Court intervention after police had not made any progress in their investigations. This article which was a bit factual than the others still magnified areas where Dzamara could have been found wanting. It sought more to discredit Dzamara than to provide an unbiased account of the investigations.
When researching for the purposes of writing this article I failed to locate an article in state media that appeared sympathetic to the plight of Dzamara and his family. Almost all of the articles focused more on the political machinations of the opposition in cahoots with Dzamara to engineer an ‘Arab Spring’ kind of rebellion in the country.
State media and the government may have information that make them reinforce these conspiracy theories that some of us are not privy too or perhaps not as sophisticated to see through. It is clear though to an objective by stander that Itai Dzamara is an enemy of the state and this affects how state media covers his story.
The role of any media is to uphold the rights of the public. Itai Dzamara, as a citizen of Zimbabwe has a right to security. State media has a duty to its citizens to promote their rights and challenge the government when these rights are threatened. State media has not questioned the government even in areas where its been clear that investigations have been slow and not satisfactory.
There are other people who have been abducted in this country and some have not come back alive. Jestina Mukoko was lucky to come back alive. Rashiwe Guzha, Tonderai Ndira, Cain Nkala amongst others did not make it. It is not inconceivable that outspoken political activists can disappear. It has happened before.
Another sore point is the partisan enforcement of the law especially by police. Many citizens do not believe that the police have gone out of their way to solve the Dzamara case. Granted there are many unsolved mysteries in this country including the unsolved cases of people who have been breaking into Vice President Mnangagwa’s office so we must not be quick to point towards bias. Perhaps incompetence is the word.
But police are known to deal with opposition activists ruthlessly. They have raided the MDC-T offices and prevented the party from holding public meetings. They even barred the Dzamara march until the High Court intervened. Opposition supporters do not believe that they can get justice where the Zimbabwe Republic Police is involved.
It is therefore not surprising that private media and the Dzamara family have taken matters into their own hands to try and uncover the truth about Itai’s disappearance. Private media played its role of giving a voiceless citizen a platform to pressure the government into action. Most private media houses gave Partson Dzamara the platform to tell his story. Very few told the story on his behalf.
If the state and its various organs had turned every stone in uncovering the truth it would be a different matter. Instead the response of the government has been to mock Dzamara’s plight. Government has not shown any sincerity in assisting the Dzamara family. Professor Jonathan Moyo once said that there was nothing unusual about missing persons. He said that there were people missing in countries such as the US but people were not making noise about it.
Such insensitivity makes it difficult for the family and other citizens including private media to fold their hands and watch while nothing is done about the disappearance of a fellow citizen.Government needs to do enough before state media accuses those who are genuinely empathetic to the situation for practicing gutter journalism.