When media practitioners fan hate speech

‘July 31: Who then has the last laugh’ reads Sunday Mail Assistant Editor, Munyaradzi Huni’s most recent offering in that paper. If you did not read it yourself, the article is nothing but a hate speech littered piece of writing full of cringe worthy labels and insulting epithets attached to different individuals, both real and imagined enemies of Zanu PF. Well, it’s hardly surprising, because many times Huni opens his mouth, or rather, puts pen to paper, his guts spill out. As an editor, we can be forgiven for expecting him to strive to uphold the ethics of objective criticism without resorting to insults. From the summary below, it’s hard to believe that at least two thirds of Huni’s article was dedicated to name-calling and denigration.

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Whatever you make of this, some of my colleagues feel that a lot of the descriptions above though hard-hitting, are very apt. I just think that dedicating all that real estate to insults is something that ought to boggle minds. Less than a month ago, Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe (MMPZ) Director Andy Moyse had a serious talk with journos about this and the slow effects of losing readers in the process. Huni is not alone. I have read some really shocking things from many newspaper columnists like him, and the things politicians have said about each other. The First Lady herself recently took to the podium at a Zanu PF rally in Chiweshe, and dedicated half of her rant to describing the Prime Minister’s ugliness.

 We can only but expect more of such vitriol this silly season, when professionalism goes straight out the window. But if we can leave hate speech to the politicians, as media practitioners we may be able to show a little respect to our loyal readers who expect some level of objectivity from the people they also expect to play the critical role of fourth estate. And there we are ironically clamoring for media reforms while in the meantime allowing the profession to go to the dogs. Some uncalled for insults only make some people sound like blithering idiots.

A hallmark of bad journalism

I recently just read one of the Sunday Mail features with great revulsion. The headline screamed: Gays and lesbians on the loose. Apart from thinking that there was nothing new in the tired story, I thought, what kind of a heading is that. Mention of ‘on the loose’, like how you’d describe animals that escaped from a zoo. The entire article lacked even the pretense of fairness and smacked of a desperate journalist who did not have a diary item for the week and went for the usual easy cheap shot – a jab at the ‘gays’ that always succeeds in generating a lot of interest and renewed albeit uncalled for attention to the minority group.

The article basically sought to establish how ready Zimbabweans were to accept homosexuals and also discuss the fact that this is a hotly contested issue at this point while the country waits – with bated breath – for a new constitution. The likes of Dr Vimbai Chivaura (UZ) and Takudzwa Gutu (MSU) – labeled as social commentator and social expert (whatever that is) respectively – were interviewed and gave such crass and unjustifiably homophobic remarks you’d wonder why the journalist chose university personnel as sources in the first place. According to Chivaura, homosexuality is unAfrican (yeah, we’ve heard that before) and there is “need for a law which completely wipes it out from the face of the Zimbabwean cultural landscape”.

The social expert on the other hand believes that the rise in the number of children involved in homosexuality is as a result of them being exposed to ‘rabidly pro-gay foreign media’. These experts not only speak of homosexuality like it’s an epidemic – they also believe it is a foreign import and despite the fact that we have whole communities of gay people; it is ‘unAfrican’.

Apart from the usual and to be expected comments from the ‘social experts’, the article is a demonstration of what constitutes bad journalism and is not only an embarrassment to the media fraternity, but goes against the grain of what we are trying to achieve as a nation – responsible, balanced media freedom that recognizes democracy and lives its tenets. You get the feeling that oh, here is a problem, but what is the solution? You also get the urge to say STOP, wait a minute, these are human beings we are talking about here right? Surely legislation is not going to stop homosexuals from feeling the way they do?

Whether Zimbabwe is ready or not to accept homosexuality is inconsequential to the minority rights question. One gentleman commented on the GALZ website that: “when dealing with issues concerning minority rights (homosexuals) it’s not about what the majority thinks, because it is rare for the majority to think of any good out of a minority…homosexuals are a permanent minority group and can never secure legislation in their favor. Their rights are better protected by the courts in its jurisprudence. If we really claim to have democracy, then these rights should be enshrined in the new constitution as democracy entails accepting differences amongst ourselves so that we are equal on the application of law…” I couldn’t agree more.

On the part of the media, I think nothing is more tragic – or more common than unjustifiable homophobia, especially coming from a national paper. Evidently, their unbalanced editorial policy with regards to homosexuality is caused by ignorance or avoidance of the real facts. A bit of tolerance will go a long way in avoiding the terrible effects of sexual prejudices which demean millions of people who permit themselves to become entangled in foolish argument over this subject, thereby poisoning their own minds and closing the door to reason.

Intolerance – according to Napoleon Hill – closes the book of Knowledge and writes on the cover, “Finis! I have learned it all!” Intolerance makes enemies of those who should be friends. It destroys opportunity and fills the mind with doubt, mistrust, prejudice and indeed litters the world with crass self- claimed social experts! We demand responsible, factual and balanced journalism if the fraternity is going to retain any semblance of respect.

Ignorance, apathy & misplaced priorities blight climate change discourse

Hatcliff Extension is a bustling shantytown that developed over the years just on the outskirts of Harare. Here, a lot of the victims (read survivors) of 2005’s Operation Murambatsvina are still trying to rebuild their lives. The community has remarkably made a semblance of a decent urban life with well-outlined dust roads and strategically positioned boreholes. A Roman Catholic church populated by uniformed women and manifested in the form of a neat wooden cabin defiantly stands in a corner. Opposite and across it are a crèche and an enterprising coffin shop. HIV and AIDS related deaths are still rife and a visible reality.

On a recent humanitarian reporting tour in that area, colleagues from the media went around looking for story ideas or took interest in exploring life in this semi-urban-semi-rural area. Personally I was struck by the plainness of the terrain around us, though this was interestingly not an issue of concern to any of the families I interviewed.

Madhuve, who is a social worker in that area proudly explained how the community had depleted the trees gradually and systematically over the years. At that point, we had been touring the modest little house that she managed to erect with the assistance of a local humanitarian assistance organization.

In a country that’s struggling to provide adequate electricity for industry and household use alike – let alone basic services like street lighting, communities find themselves with little alternatives outside cutting down trees in order to cook and keep warm. The elusive US dollar that has practically become the country’s official currency also does little to help.

“At first council had these silly regulations in place, but we went by night and in the wee hours of the morning to cut those trees. How were we supposed to cook for our families?” she said.

Gesturing with her arm widely in the distance, she punctuates boldly: “Takachenesa mese umu vakasarenda, ikozvino tavakugobora midzi yacho (we cleared all the trees until they (council) gave up, now we are even going for the tree roots!”

The few trees still standing are mostly the fruit trees littered across the small compounds of individuals. They survive because they don’t burn well, smoke too much or just do not make good cooking fuel.

Nowadays, Madhuve and the other residents of Hatcliff Extension dig deep to buy firewood from vendors whom only God knows where they get it. A $3 bundle lasts barely two days for a family the size of Madhuve’s.

Asked whether she or the rest of the community have ever thought of exploring alternative sources of fuel like gas or the paraffin gel stoves, Madhuve gives me a look that silently labels me a crass idiot.

“And cook for how many on that small fire? Besides, can gas and paraffin be taken out of the garbage pit?” she asked. Obviously for her family of 12, it is impossible to cook a 5litre pot of sadza daily using these means.

Even though aware that the planting season has somehow shifted and temperatures somehow hotter than usual, climate change means nothing to Madhuve – not only because in her mother tongue there is no term for it, but also because she could not care less about the environment when trying to keep body and soul together is hard enough for ‘her kind’ in this economy. She was not about to be lectured on the importance of trees as natural carbon sinks, or that stripping the ground would run-off the rains when they did come.

Madhuve’s mindset is reflective of that of a lot of Zimbabweans: neither understanding nor caring about this climate change thing that journalists and other professionals are going on about. With little or no overtly deliberate public education, at the moment the subject evidently occupies the bottom-most rung of the government’s pecking order of priorities. Which begs the question; to what extent can developing countries (not in the category of China) be able to effectively play their part in combating, let alone adapting to this global phenomenon?

While civil society will go all out to train and re-train media professionals, do they stop to consider whether or not key decision and policy makers themselves understand this ‘thing’?

While the ongoing debates about climate change (now currently in Cancun, Mexico) and the need to preserve the environment continue, it has not occurred to a lot of green activists that as long as no practical solutions are being devised for ordinary people in Africa, this will continue to be a losing battle.

On a much lower scale, it takes very little for humanitarian assistance organizations to mainstream the culture of tree planting among the communities they work in, even if it means starting by upholding the previously tokenistic national tree planting day. This year has been unique because there has more noise in the media concerning how many trees have been planted. Some private initiatives have also set huge targets to support national tree planting. Lets keep the momentum.

Parched land

Land stripped of vegetation and trees runs-off rainfall

 

Mushonga estate wrangle a circus

At the risk of ruffling the feathers of feminists and other womenists who are understood to be circulating emails of apology amongst themselves and to Regional Integration and International Cooperation Minister, Priscilla Misihariambwi-Mushonga for ‘letting her down’, I think the hoopla around the latter’s property dispute has become a circus and smacks of nothing but a publicity stunt. The media have not disappointed and have enjoyed over a week-long field day writing about this issue. Some to the extent of printing misleading headlines using words like ‘homeless’.

I recently came across an article on ZimEye (Misihairambwi-Mushonga homeless) that seemed very sympathetic to the Minister’s plight. The readers’ comments that followed gave some very interesting insights. I found one comment particularly interesting, where the writer, who calls himself Rufus, says that “publications are trying to say she (Misihairambwi) is a miniscule statistic in a much bigger problem against women, but if Misi can afford to stay in a hotel, she will pull through, and I’m sure she can afford breakfast tomorrow. Others can’t.”

Well said.

While the Minister’s case plays a critically important role of highlighting the vulnerabilities of widows embroiled in inheritance disputes, women like herself are expected to be more empowered and less oriented towards seeking public pity and sympathy while playing up the victim card like that. I think to claim that the Minister is homeless, while she is no doubt paying nothing less than $50 a day for hotel accommodation is to make a mockery of really desperate women who are battered and left out in the cold following such similar property and inheritance disputes.

It is also interesting to note that the honourable Minister has seriously started blasting inheritance laws only after she herself has personally been ‘failed’ by the system.

If she can afford to stay in a hotel indefinitely, she certainly can afford to buy herself a bachelor flat or rent a full house in Harare each month for $400. Crap, I say.

The women are the bigger fools

The constant hoopla around Zuma’s polygamy really is getting exhausting; with journos shifting attention to what he is up to each time they are suffering the diary draught. It has become nothing short of selling tabloid headlines. Can’t they get it through their thick heads? The man said it loud and clear – much to the indignation of feminists and gender activists – it is his (Zulu) culture, and the problem with most of us is indeed “thinking that our cultures are far more superior to those of others”. What Zuma is doing is to be expected, those are some of the hazards of having a clown for a president.

My bone of contention is; are the women involved in all this being oppressed? Have any of them been forced into marriage by this lunatic? Are not the majority of them young, pretty and educated but found jostling amongst themselves to be the next best lady? Do they not make public appearances next to the imposing Zulu President all smiley and beaming with self-importance and contentment?  Why are they being made to look like the victims? I mean so what if he has just fathered his 20th child and married his umpteenth wife? Though old-fashioned, the man can afford it for Pete’s sake and it is clearly not illegal in his country? In any case, those children are lucky at all to be born of the President of the most powerful country in Sub Saharan Africa.

I agree the man has a strangely colossal libido, is possibly a paraphiliac, a fool and whatever else the media choose to label him, but I think the fascination with Zuma’s polygamy deserves nothing more than the attention of National Geographic to ‘Africa’s Strangest’. The media are having a field day and the feminists have developed a serious bone to chew, yet the Swazi King Mswati leaves the most polygamous green with envy and for him, marrying is an annual exploit. His father before him had 70 wives by the time of his death too.

If anything, the only sad thing I find about Zuma’s actions is the fact that he claims he loves all his women equally. I feel a certain amount of pity for his first wife, the rotund (read solid) MaKhumalo – who clearly looked unhappy alongside her husband during his inauguration as President of South Africa. It is common knowledge that this woman rarely appears in public, let alone at the arm of her husband. One could almost guess what was going through her mind – probably that her being taken along for this auspicious occasion was just for show: Zuma, the family man who respects his first wife. God only knows he would have preferred to make that grand appearance with one of the younger ‘trophies’ as the young men here would say it.

virgin hopefuls

Colorful hopefuls ripe for the picking like tomatoes at the market

This – my colleagues is the battle of the “ Desperate First Wives”, and they are all vying for the title of first lady. From the South African Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma to the youngest (and currently prettiest) wife Nompumelelo Ntuli, I can tell you, none of then went kicking and screaming to their Umshado wesiZulu (Zulu wedding). New word on the street has it that Zuma has impreganted another youngling, and she is none other than businessman Irvin Khoza’s daughter! I daresay the media spotlight must beam on these women; they are the bigger fools for embarrassing themselves and allowing themselves to be treated in this way. Who are they, what makes them tick, what made powerful people like themselves fall for this man? Just what was it for each one of them – wealth, fame? Trust me; that would make interesting reading and ‘news’ for a change.

The way Investigative Zim sees it is that; either South Africa is reinventing the concept of political morality and public responsibility among its leaders, or something is seriously wrong with the presidency and the nation just hasn’t woken up to it yet. I shant say more.