Sunshine journalism: What happens on cloudy days? 

Source: Sunshine journalism: What happens on cloudy days? – NewsDay Zimbabwe June 20, 2019

I RECENTLY read on the ZBC website that Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa had “urged the media to write positive developmental stories about Zimbabwe in the new dispensation”, and this reminded me of a concept called “sunshine journalism” that I learned in journalism school many years ago.

When Zimbabwe emerged from colonialism in 1980, the government took a key interest in journalism, often commandeering what made it to the pages of local newspapers.

The media then were supposed to be unctuously unquestioning and to blindly toe the official line, with the late former Sunday Mail editor, Willie Musarurwa, describing this as “minister and sunshine journalism”.

In a nutshell, how this worked, according to Musarurwa, was that a news story would be basically: “The sun is shining and the minister spoke.”

This was the type of journalism that the government of that time preferred and when I saw Mutsvangwa’s statements on positive developmental journalism, I thought it was a throwback to those years when the government was averse to criticism and quick to show any journalist capable of free and independent thought the door.

The equation is simple: If there are enough positive stories, the media will carry them without being cajoled and that the government seems to be begging for positive coverage should be a sign that there is little to show for their stay in power.

I hear some say the media should report objectively and if they do that, then positive stories will flow, but this is a load of utopian codswallop that is only possible in dreamland.

Let me quickly dispense with the notion of objectivity.

Objectivity assumes that one is neutral, they are unaffected by daily events and will report things as they are or as they should be.

But what the principle of objectivity seems to be oblivious to is that we are socially placed individuals, who are shaped by our circumstances and that is how we relate with the world around us.

That is why, for example, despite having local correspondents, once a big story breaks, big foreign media houses will send their own reporters to cover that issue rather than rely on locals, who they feel are too close to the events and will not do a fair job.

Foreign reporters hardly spend more than two years in a particular country because there is a fear they may acclimatise and start having the same biases as locals, so they are quickly shifted from one country to the next.

Thus, it is impossible to be objective, but journalists should instead be urged to be fair and give both sides to a story equal coverage rather than downplay one side at the expense of another.

Back to the issue at hand, when I saw Mutsvangwa’s statement that the media should report positively, I quickly remembered the late nights I have spent collecting water because I knew there would be none the following day.

Fuel queues have become the order of the day, while electricity shortages are quite pronounced.

I have watched as my salary has been eroded and at last count, inflation is closing in on the 100% mark.

It feels so insulting that the government that Mutsvangwa serves continuously harps on about having a surplus, when it has not paid for antiretroviral drugs, putting thousands of lives at risk.

A surplus is not good if it does not work for the good of the people and the sooner the government keeps quiet about this abstract issue, the better.

I could be accused of being pessimistic and focusing only on the negatives rather than the positives that this government has ushered in.

The sad reality is that the negatives far outweigh the positives and more Zimbabweans are far worse economically than they have been at any point in the past decade.

I appreciate that the government has introduced some austerity measures and these come with unavoidable pain.

I doubt that anyone has a problem with austerity measures, but what most people have a problem with is that it seems only the ordinary citizens are bearing the brunt of the austerity measures, while the elite continue as if everything was normal.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa travels the world in a hired luxury jet, which the nation can ill-afford.
The government first claimed that Mnangagwa’s travels could inconvenience Air Zimbabwe and hiring the jets was a cheaper option.

The next story was that a United Arab Emirates prince had offered Mnangagwa use of the jet for free, whenever he wanted it.

The messaging from the government is inconsistent in this regard and the optics are really not good.

In addition, the Vice-Presidents have taken to using private jets too, something that was unknown barely two years ago.

I was quite young and I may not be accurate in my recollection, but I do not remember the late Vice-President Joshua Nkomo travelling to Egypt on a private jet for medical treatment.

His successors, Joseph Msika and John Nkomo, were also not known for taking to the skies in private chartered jets on public business, neither did Simon Muzenda.

Former Vice-President Joice Mujuru is still alive and it would be interesting to know if she ever had a private jet, courtesy of public funds.

Even First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa has been reported to be using chartered jets.

It will not be remiss for one to conclude that we could be at the mercy of a predatory elite, whose base instinct is to eat on behalf of the people.

Under such crushing circumstances, my question to Mustvangwa is: How then do we write positive development stories?
Just like everyone else, the media are suffering under the yoke of a malfunctioning economy that is characterised by dwindling sales and shrinking advertising and to be fair, expecting them to write that the “sun is shining and the minister has spoken” is expecting far too much; nay, the impossible.

Fix the economy minister, improve the national mood and get things working and positive developmental stories will flow.

One of the normative functions of the media is to be a mirror of society; it is impractical to expect journalists to write about nirvana when the country is enmeshed in such suffering.

 Nqaba Matshazi is AMH head of digital. He writes this in his personal capacity. Feedback Twitter: @nqabamatshazi