Watching Herald editor Bornwell Chakaodza make a spectacle of himself during the televised interview of President Mugabe on the eve of his 75th birthday, those who have been reading his editorials of late must have heaved a sigh of relief. It is just better to ignore him, or better still, to feel pity for him because he is genuinely lost.
Perhaps he continues to be haunted by his past when he was critical of the government. As a turncoat, he is trying so hard to be seen to be loyal that he is literally making a fool of himself. In fact, though a member of the ruling party in his own right, he now seems to be more blindly loyal to the party than even the founders.
Even his two fellow panellists, Anaan Maruta, the host of the show, and Henry Muradzikwa, editor in chief of the national news agency, Ziana, both of which are wholly owned by the state while the state controls only 51 percent of Zimpapers, a publicly listed company, must have been left wondering what had hit them.
The question now is: How long will he last at Zimpapers?
With Members of Parliament, elected on the party ticket beginning to question some of the things the government is doing, Chakaodza, must be asking himself, who is he really there to serve as editor of The Herald, the biggest national paper?
While the government through the Mass Media Trust is the majority shareholder, Zimpapers is still a public company. And the Mass Media Trust represents the people of Zimbabwe and not just the government of the day.
As the saying goes, governments come and go. Elsewhere in this issue, the National Constitutional Assembly and opposition parties are quoted as saying “governments, no matter how popular, come and go, but the people remain”.
Chakaodza ought to take note of this. The millions of people who are now disgruntled, perhaps with the leadership of the ruling party rather than the party per se, cannot all be wrong. He may have been appointed editor by the government but as he has often stated in his editorials, he is not dictated to.
One presupposes therefore that the opinions in his paper are his and not the government’s. Surely, as a journalist, former director of information, and researcher, he must be quite aware that in the past, some ZANU-PF leaders have complained about misinformation from the state-controlled media.
Ignoring that an act the State has made is illegal when it is, is disinformation. Claiming that the land reform programme will be implemented at a faster pace when it is grinding to a halt, especially when it looks like the paper had this information but selectively published what it had thought would please the leadership is not only disinformation but cheating the public and lying, lying and lying.
While he may appear to be doing a sterling job to defend the government, is he sure that the leaders appreciate the way he is doing it, or they too believe he is overdoing it to the extent of discrediting the government, more so since the editorials are viewed, rightly or wrongly, as those of the government?
While Chakaodza is reported to have told some colleagues that he is merely trying to earn a living, this clearly contradicts his actions. It appears that he genuinely believes he is there to protect the interests of the majority shareholder, the government and he feels it is his personal responsibility.
Reports say he even used this argument to try to force the reversal of the price increase from $4 to $7 but was told who else he thought was representing the minority shareholders in the company’s management.
But it appears he has not given up. Some believe he is trying to get back at the management through the paper and they cite some of the letters published in the paper.
On Friday, February 19, for example, the lead letter read: “I want to comment on your editorial of February 9 which called for cartels to be broken. Your editorial forgets that The Herald, by being the only daily in the country (What happened to The Chronicle?), is in a monopoly or near-monopoly as you put it.
“Mr. Editor, you allege ..cartels and monopolies are inherently inefficient . No producer is seriously looking for ways of cutting costs – all producers know that they will be guaranteed a profit…. No one will look for imaginative ways of attracting customers by keeping prices below those of their competitors . How true is this for The Herald, which increased its price from $4 to $7, which is 75 percent. No wonder you did it Nicodemusly this time. What do you say Mr. Editor. The pot calls the kettle black”. -Mhizha Dube.
Whatever the case may be, the point is Chakaodza must remember he is first and foremost a journalist. Newspapers, indeed, are there to portray certain positions, especially of their owners.
A public paper, therefore, must be answerable to the public. Chakaodza must not take journalism back to the 80s when because of the nation’s newfound independence, it was acceptable to write about the boreholes, wells, clinics or roads that had been constructed even if they led to nowhere.
We are not saying his paper should not carry stories about development but they must look at the issues in their proper perspective and their relevance to the people.
Too many clinics that have turned into white elephants have been built. And the first thing he ought to consider is to kick away his holier than thou attitude. He may find that this is a thankless profession. All he will get is flack even from those he claims he is serving.
Who ever thought Tommy Sithole would be removed as editor of The Herald? But it happened. The only thing is that Sithole left a hero. One editorial comment changed his entire career at The Herald.