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» » The newsroom as a citadel of democracy, free speech



with Gift Gwindingwe

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) categorically upholds the totality of human freedoms the world over.
Continents, regions and sub-regions milk from the Universal Declaration to endorse the same in their geopolitical environs. In Africa, the African Union (AU), formerly the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), draws from the UDHR to uphold and endorse democratic principles as they are universally acknowledged.
In the Southern part of Africa, the Southern African Development Committee (Sadc) also convened in Windhoek, Namibia, in 1991 to ratify, endorse and uphold the same international democratic principles on human and people’s rights. This became the Windhoek Declaration.
Journalism, before it got tainted by social media, has been the fulcrum upon which democratic principles (including freedom of expression) are benchmarked. Professional journalism is institutionalised. Media organisations are institutions mandated with upholding journalistic ethics which in turn see to the perpetuation of democracy even in democratically less permeable autocracies.
Media houses are staffed with professional journalists who are guided by the ethics of the profession. The ethics are kept in check by various stakeholders: in Zimbabwe, we have the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ) which is mandated with keeping the profession in check by mediating between the reporters and the reported. Keeping the journalistic profession in check only requires the professionals in conjunction with the laws of the government. Every profession is manned by the professionals who are equipped with the necessary skills in the profession.
At his resignation, academic icon and the former Vice Chancellor of the University of Zimbabwe, Professor Walter Kamba cited the ‘unprofessional fingers pointing into his business’ as the main reason for his quitting the job. The former minister of Industry and Trade, Nkosana Moyo also left soon after being appointed to the ministry arguing that there was too much interference from outsiders (in particular War Veterans). These incidents are clear pointers to the substance in the popular Shona adage that ‘zvoto zvine mazera’ (fire places are occupied by age mates or like-minds). In the same manner, stakeholders in every ministry or organisation can only be guided by organisational statutes that derive from organisational mission and values as well as government laws in their expectations.
Journalists are ‘ordained’ by the institutions that train them and then kept guided by the journalistic ethics. I call them ‘ordained’ news/information movers or disseminators. They are trained to facilitate information dissemination through agreed and expected conduct. In media or communication studies, journalists are regarded as crucial players in expanding the public sphere, an arena upon which democracy, freedom of expression and other associated freedoms are enhanced.
In this regard, the workplace for journalists, the news room, is a citadel of democracy and freedom of expression. Journalism is a profession, a call to persons involved. Journalists smell, eat, wine and dine news/information dissemination. They are out to sincerely entertain, inform and educate the society. These are the normative roles of the media. It is therefore an act of misconduct to hinder or prohibit the performance of journalistic duties by anyone regardless of class, gender or race.
Famous and popular individuals are newsmakers. They are news worthy. All celebrities are news worthy. Fame needs to be managed. Prominent athletes and artists who do not engage managers risk failing to handle their fame and the upshot is making headlines/news for wrong reasons. Politicians are equally famous people. They thus need to manage their lives or conduct well. If a celebrity/famous individual does good, that becomes positive news for the particular individual. News gatherers tell it as it is and bad behaviour is represented in the media without fear or favour. Journalists are holders of the mirror that reflects what transpires in the society. They are photographers who capture events as they happen. This is what they are ‘ordained’ to do.
If news dissemination is a journalist’s food and drink, let them enjoy! If news reporting is a journalist’s play, then, ‘let the children play’! It is quite a sonorous misdeed for an individual to impede journalists from merely carrying out their professional duties just because one cannot conduct oneself properly. There are uncodified laws that conventionally guide us in our daily conduct and so these should be observed for individuals to carry good tags on their backs. Journalists read these tags and make news on them. So watch out!
Status or social class can never and will never exonerate wayward individuals from being reported on if they go wayward. Political affiliation or holding a political position in any political party can never and will never exempt individuals from being reported on. Journalists tell it as it is: good behaviour shall always be reported on, and so is bad conduct. It is everyone’s freedom to express themselves if they feel aggrieved by journalists but this is as long as the reportage is untruthful. Therefore charging into newsrooms and threatening journalists shall never be condoned. Let it sink into the minds of all and sundry that journalism as a profession and as a practice knows no status, class or political affiliation. The society needs to be informed about these ‘important’ or popular people so that they know who to emulate and who not to. After all, not all these celebrities or famous individuals are role models! It is character that carries the day for an individual to be a role model. So in as much as there are rights to express ourselves, let us be cautious and bear in mind the paradox of freedom: you can play your radio to the fullest blast but that is as long as you are not infringing into the rights of your neighbour!
A news room is a citadel of democracy. Let us not turn it into a boxing ring or into an our nowadays abused parliament where the business of the day is to verbally and physically threaten or attack one another just because of different political standings. A news room houses journalists who entertain, inform and educate the masses. Threatening journalists is undemocratic and archaic. Attacking journalists because the behaviour of your political party is exposed is a sign of drought of wisdom. Hindering journalist from performing their duties tells a story of fear and cowardice!
If a house leaks, attend to the roof top before you have the ceiling repaired. Please let the children play! Let the journalists do their part! We shall never surrender our purpose to empty threats. Ordained news reporters shall capture newsmakers as they stroll up and down the corridors of Zimbabwe and tell Zimbabwe.

The writer is a secondary school head, a lecturer at Great Zimbabwe University (GZU) and a PhD candidate with Fort Hare University, researching on media.

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