Analysis – Missing village, street voices in Zimbabwe elections

By Earnest Mudzengi

IF you are you an avid reader, a discerning viewer and listener who is looking for multiple voices and diversely sourced stories about the Zimbabwe elections, you must be a frustrated person.

If you are, then we are in the same boat. The problem that we are facing is one of “homogeneously or narrowly sourced narratives” that do not place the community and citizens at the centre of the electoral process.

No complaints?

It is intriguing that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC)’s Media Monitoring Committee says it is not receiving any complaints about the media’s wayward behaviour in electoral reportage.  Even more shocking is how the Zimbabwe National Editors Forum (ZINEF) dismisses as mere perception successive findings by Media Monitors that players across the media divide have taken partisan slants in covering the elections.

The new normal?

We are facing or living a tragedy that has become “the new normal” in our media.  This sort of culture emanates at source.

Yes, the source of our news.

As you and I have been taught to believe, the goodness of the story is only to the extent that its source or sources are. The strength of a well-sourced story is in balanced, diversified and relevant detail that connects to everyday concerns and interests of everyday people.

“Discerning citizens are yearning for diversified and widely ranging news sources that enable us to enjoy progressive, democratic citizenship.”

No citizens’ voices

In this election season, discerning citizens are yearning for diversified and widely ranging news sources that enable us to enjoy progressive, democratic citizenship. We look forward to stories that empower us to make informed political choices, stories that empower us to engage meaningfully with the political processes.

Outside the usual voices of political leaders, the candidates and their party structures, there are hardly stories capturing the views of ordinary people, “wananchi”, the povo in the villages of Chiweshe, Chiredzi, Tsholotsho, Matobo and Chimanimani.

We hardly also meet the voices from the streets of Bulawayo, Gweru, Mutare, Kariba.

When I do, I am not getting those stories in a meaningful quantity or quality.

Such stories, which we are desperately missing, must have a cross-section of voices. They must be conceived from community-wide sources that represent a multiplicity of electoral concerns and interests.

Same political, NGOs voices

While experts, politicians and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) that present themselves as civil society are necessary for purposes of balance and verification, these need not be the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end, as is the case with Zimbabwe’s obtaining news sourcing trends.

It is this narrow sourcing of news that has seen our journalism being manipulated by self-seeking elites.

Political manipulation

Instead of telling the election story as seen from the worldview of citizens in their collective sense, our media have been submerged into captured spaces that uphold the political and economic interests of a few political elites. The voices of these few now dominate the making of our news. Where we have voices of ‘political analysts’, ‘experts’ and what is often presented as civil society, they but reinforce the elite narrative.

From such warped news sourcing, we cannot help but wallow in manipulated, monopolised, almost predictable election story telling. Yet, with right sourcing scopes, we should be having engaging, captivating stories through which the media presents elections as a multi-stakeholder affair.

Marginalised voices

I am looking for a multi-stakeholder affair in which voices, interests and concerns of villagers, ordinary workers and many others are equitably projected and represented in ways that deepen the democratic process.

This sort of representation and projection is what constitutes good, well-sourced stories.

We are still waiting for more stories that are relevant to a cross-section of audiences, stories with sufficient, verified and verifiable facts. Stories that provide context, stories that are not so predictable.

I believe that if our sourcing is right, we will also have stories that capture emotions, stories that empower communities and stories that connect the election debate to deeper and broader socio-economic and cultural themes.

A majority of Zimbabweans are looking for a media that is able to escape from the clutches of the usual political forces and voices, a media that is not going to be dependent on press releases and scripts from the propaganda arms of political parties and charismatic sects.

Author: Earnest Mudzengi is executive director of the Media Centre in Harare which offers freelance Zimbabwean journalists working space, and facilities for Press conferences and workshops.



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