Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Informed Leadership: The Role of Journalism

Informed leadership

Wednesday, 26 June 2013 00:00
Stephen Mpofu
Zimbabwe Herald

Post modernity places a high prize on Zimbabwean journalists to make the Fourth Estate an indisputable steel pillar of our society. The Executive, the Judiciary and the Legislature are often touted, or they pass themselves up, as the tripod on which countries and their governments sit balanced.

However, that description is anomalous as it excludes the Press, or the Fourth Estate, without which the three other institutions would remain wobbly without journalists in the fourth estate exposing the trio’s functional roles through publicity.

Actually, one wonders for how long, if at all, the legislature as well as the judiciary and the executive would exist without the supportive role of mass communication media saving as a link or bridge between those institutions and society. Yet journalists and their profession are accorded a love-hate relationship from parliamentarians, in particular.

At best some pedestrians, also — exist, politicians display unmitigated audacity by lecturing journalists on how to do their work; at worst these nonentities whose political chemistry is laughable to say the least, thumb their noses on journalists if stories written above them do not inflict the ego — a vanity associated with self-seeking officials.

The degraded position into which scribes of whatever professional acumen are compartmentalised — is it a case of bad history haunting African journalists long after their rise to a profession previously the preserve of white journalists?

Journalism in colonial Rhodesia and elsewhere on the African continent was used as a powerful instrument for perpetuating the oppression of blacks by colonial regimes, and black politicians and their organisations which bore the brunt of negative publicity in a calculated plot to discredit them and make them anathema to the wider public as a way of protecting supremacist regimes, may not have forgotten that dark past.

What is more, certain sections of the media behave today in exactly the same way as white-run media did by working against their own black governments even where the latter deserve laudation for service delivery to the public thereby making themselves appear as though they were paid agents of contemporary imperialists.

But this kind of slapdash professionalism cannot be allowed to continue on a continent on the run, development wise, and it is the humble opinion of this pen that journalists now fully in charge of their media can, and must of necessity, redeem themselves from the enigmatic position in which they find themselves in spite of the skilful performance of some of them.

Pursuit of excellency in journalism appears to be the only way for journalists to earn their rightful place in society as members of a fourth estate that is a fourth essential pillar of society. This suggests that members of the so-called noble profession eschew mediocrity by some of them to earn the respect that is due to the profession.

Consistent calls by political parties and the general public for people seeking election as parliamentarians or councillors to possess sound academic qualifications, have opened a Pandora’s box to expose hope for journalists to lay undisputed claim to the fourth estate as a critical institution in the lives of not only Zimbabweans but also of other Africans on the continent.

Stated simply, journalists in Zimbabwe should rate among the most educated people because of the critical role they play in society and in light of the country’s renowned literacy rate. It is all very well to be well conversant with the technical presentation of stories. Be that as it may, knowledge of the 5Ws — the what, where, when, why, who and the H, the how, are unfortunately not the all and be all of excellence in journalism.

Nor is the watchdog role of journalists a sufficient credential either for the scribes to drum their chests.

The redemptive or transformative part played by journalism in society may appear to some as a mere shadow of the profession, but the truth is that it is the plasma of that noble profession but which lacks in many professionals because they are not thoroughly grounded on the dynamics that inform social, economic and political activities not just in Zimbabwe but in other African countries as well, witness shallow analyses of some activities or speeches by experts in various fields.

The time may have come, albeit belatedly, for Zimbabwean journalists, in particular those in the highest echelons of the profession, to possess specialisation in politics or political science, sociology and economics among other important disciplines in their profession. Students from media training institutions and on attachment with the print and electronic media have exposed a glaring if not shocking lack of knowledge of either economic, political or social activities with some including those already permanently employed sometimes being led by the nose by interviewees.

Universities training journalists might wish to revisit their programmes to ensure that they produce graduates who are conversant with media law especially insofar as it underpins their every activity, not to mention writers who can tell the difference between democracy and tyranny, economic and social trends in their country so that the public puts their money where they are well informed by knowledgeable writers.

It is something akin to a scandal for editorial heads without university degree qualifications to expect to adequately inform a society for whom a university degree is now more or less like a driving licence. This situation is even more serious in light of a worrying decline in the country’s reading culture so that, those scribes possessing diplomas or certificates probably find no inclination whatsoever, at least some of them, to improve their educational or professional credentials.

Degrees may also be obtained by post and media houses should play an important role by sponsoring their employees to better their professional qualifications. After all, credit will ultimately aggregate in favour of employers for a good product that makes them smile all the way to the bank.

It is not too late to empower journalists through education for them to make their country proud with an excellent delivery of their services to the public.
Moreover, an informed editorial leadership not only accounts for a robust journalism; it engenders an informed citizenry.

--Stephen Mpofu is former editor of the Chronicle and The Sunday Mail.

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