via Let’s address media polarisation – DailyNews Live by Conrad Nyamutata 20 MAY 2014
The polarisation of the media remains a nagging national question as evidenced by Information minister Jonathan Moyo’s call last week for the media to speak with “one voice.”
His plea reminded me of Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s book, Manufacturing Consent, whose central thesis is that political and media elites construct propaganda narratives in order to build support.
In Moyo’s view, the lack of media consent could be the cause of the refusal by international finance institutions to support Zimbabwe.
However, if ever consent is to be “manufactured,” it is worth looking at the causes of media polarisation. It would seem polarisation has its roots in the ideological inclinations of post-colonial regimes.
When colonialism ended, Africa witnessed the emergence “developmental dictatorships,” premised on the belief that political security was a prerequisite for economic growth.
Alongside it emerged a narrow notion of “development journalism.” Jeffrey Wimmer and Susan Wolf define this as the reporting on ideas, programmes, activities and events, which are related to an improvement of the living standard, mainly in the rural regions.
Here, this manifested through the ZBC, Zimpapers, Community Newspapers Group, Ziana and provincial information officers focusing on State projects.
And for years, ribbons were indeed cut — symbolism of opening of completed projects. New schools, hospitals, roads and so on provided justification for developmental dictatorship and development journalism.
However, the concept of development journalism was narrow because it failed to probe failures of the State. When development stalled, development journalism failed to respond to the causes.
This deliberate reticence gave rise to the privately-owned media. A lacuna existed for media that could interrogate the failings that development journalism was reluctant or unable to question.
One could argue, thus, that the Daily News was a creation of the state media or at least, their inadequacies, amid growing social despondency.
The Daily News immediately became the most popular newspaper after its launch in 1999. The MDC was formed later that year.
The establishment of the newspaper and the opposition party generated the binary of the patriots and traitors. It is this patriot/traitor delineation that explains the persecution of both the MDC and the Daily News.
The “traitorous” MDC had its leaders and supporters arrested, beaten up, maimed and killed.
The “unpatriotic” Daily News incurred arrests of staff, two bombings and closure in 2003.
A move towards Moyo’s “one voice” journalism would require the obliteration of the patriot/traitor binary.
It can be argued quite plausibly even that critics of poor governance are even more patriotic than condoners of an inefficient status quo. With the formation of the MDC, development journalism found a partner in “patriotic journalism.”
Patriotic journalism premised itself primarily on de-legitimation of the opposition as a proxy of the West.
“One voice” journalism would dispense with this insulting premise that Zimbabweans are incapable of independent political organisation.
In recent years, development journalism found a convenient explanation for economic stagnation — sanctions.
This singular explanation has been unpersuasive.
In his appeal, Moyo says there is an opportunity today for the same unity witnessed in the immediate aftermath of independence.
The cohesion that followed independence was based on the factuality of colonialism. We could all unite as victims of an incontestable truth.
But the reason the media fails to coalesce around the Zanu PF narrative of continued external machinations to explain Zimbabwe’s troubles is because not all accept it as truth.
As long as Zanu PF fails to acknowledge its own obvious mismanagement of the economy, “one voice” journalism is impossible.
Pointedly, the self-enrichment of its few elites deprives the sanctions narrative uncontested factuality.
Colonialism equalised us all as racially inferior.
However, it is evident that post-colonialism has also created inequalities, with the emergence of “super blacks” benefiting from patrimonialism.
Given this background, manufacturing consent is a difficult proposition because it corrals all media for propagandistic purposes.
We can have a taxonomy of journalism — development, patriotic journalism etc.
But what is needed is simply one form of it — honest journalism.