One of the stories that has been doing the rounds on the society for professional journalists mailing list is about the so-called independent press. Does it exist or not? One of the messages, purportedly from one of the former managing editors of the New York Times, which scooped most of the Pullitzer prizes this year (the Oscars of journalism), goes like this: “There is no such thing, at this date of the world’s history, as an independent press. You know it and I know it.
“There is not one of you who dares to write your honest opinions, and if you did, you know beforehand that it would never appear in print. I am paid weekly for keeping my honest opinions out of the paper I am connected with.
“Others of you are paid similar salaries for similar things, and any of you who would be so foolish as to write honest opinions would be out on the streets looking for another job. If I allowed my honest opinions to appear in one issue of my paper, before twenty-four hours my occupation would be gone.
“The business of the journalist is to destroy the truth; to lie outright; to pervert; to vilify; to fawn at the feet of Mammon, and to sell the country for his daily bread. You know it and I know it and what folly is this toasting an independent press. We are the tools and vassals of the rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks, they pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes.”
While there has been a lot of discussion as to whether the managing editor of the New York Times really said this or not, the last bit would fit well with Information Minister Jonathan Moyo’s argument. As far as he is concerned, the privately-owned press does nothing but lie.
Only the pro-government press is telling the truth. His editors seem to have swallowed the bait, hook line and sinker. The country’s biggest daily is now labelled the Daily Nonsense, the most respectable weekly, at least when FIM was still actively at the head, has now become the Pink Lies, while the Independent, for some unexplained reason is now called the Straightjacket. Perhaps this has to do with the sexual orientation of the editor.
The government-owned press itself is no saint. Its only advantage is that it completely overwhelms the privately-owned media because of its numbers: two dailies, two weeklies, two Sunday papers, four radio stations and a television station.
That is a war difficult to win. The fact remains though- the press in Zimbabwe has become so polarised you begin to wonder whether journalists, both from the state-owned papers and the privately owned ones, are not really intellectual prostitutes peddling what their masters want them to write, rather than what they themselves believe.
The word independent has been so trashed that even non-governmental organisations that totally depend on donor funds have been labelled as independent think-tanks, or independent analysts, yet if the donors pulled out today, the organisations would close the following day.
The stance which has been taken by the media in Zimbabwe can only benefit the rich or those who have access to both the electronic and print media as well as digital television. At least, if they have time to read and tune in to other news stations, they can then sift through the information from both the government-owned media and the privately owned one, and come up with a true picture that should be somewhere in between.
The average Zimbabwean may perhaps have to rely on the Street Daily, the rumour mill. The cheapest form of media, radio, is so pro-government that all one is told about the opposition Movement for Democratic Change is that it is a Movement for the Destruction of the Country as one columnist has decided to call it. Only ZANU-PF is fighting to rebuild the country. The MDC is fighting to destroy it. If fact the rebuilding effort has been drummed up so much one reader even asked: “What are we rebuilding if nothing was never destroyed?”
Newspapers have become so expensive, they are now a luxury. Besides, to get a full picture one must read at least the two competing dailies. But at $90 this may be too much for the average reader. Even at $45, a paper, that is now beyond the reach of most people, considering that a loaf of bread is now only $60. It is only $15 short of a return trip home.
If you buy two papers, that is enough for a round trip home and a drink or half a loaf. On Thursday, one has to pump out over $200 for the three papers, including the Financial Gazette and on Friday, the price goes up as there is the Independent and the Mirror to think about. Almost a week’s bus fare for a day’s papers.
Perhaps this is where the Access to Information Act must really apply because people are being denied information because they cannot afford to buy their own local papers, rather than some of the flimsy applications it is being applied to. As an avid reader, I have always wondered why I should buy the Financial Gazette for $120 when I can buy the Sunday Times of South Africa for $65. It is three times thicker than the Financial Gazette. It has to be shipped from South Africa. Yet when it gets here it is sold at a cheaper price than local papers.