There seems to be movement towards the liberalising of the Zimbabwean media landscape, and several publishers are waiting in the wings to launch new newspapers. But they will face a major challenge in finding skilled journalists, with large number of experienced staff having been driven into exile, purged from the state media or simply having left the profession, writes Guthrie Munyuki for journalism.co.za.
Guthrie Munyuki writes for journalism.co.za:
Zimbabwean journalists have been waiting patiently for the implementation of media reforms by the inclusive government.
The reforms are so crucial as they will revive newspaper publishing, including the country’s former biggest private daily, The Daily News.
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has said he and the other two principals in the government President Robert Mugabe and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara have finally agreed on the names of the commissioners to sit on the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC). Tsvangirai expects the ZMC board to be fully “functional” by December 1 barring any unforeseen problems.
Indeed we can’t wait to have the newspapers back and we further expect reforms in the broadcasting services, especially in the wake of a new report which shows the dysfunctional and sorry state of Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings (ZBH).
However, in all this hopefulness, very few have paused to think of the challenges that lie ahead.
While there is every reason to be optimistic about opening a new chapter in Zimbabwean journalism, there is also need to critically take stock of journalists who will have the unenviable task of leading Zimbabwe towards a new social, political and economic dispensation through their works.
The current crop of journalists available in Zimbabwe at the moment falls short of what is expected in future. There is no denying the stubborn fact that the flight of skilled journalists from the country in the last 8 years has left yawning gaps in the profession.
Journalists remaining in Zimbabwe at the moment are either very experienced but out of touch with skills following years of inactivity, or rookies who found themselves thrown in at the deep end to fill the skills gap.
The experienced journalists left behind either left the profession many years ago to pursue careers in the private sector or were purged from the state-controlled newspaper stable during the turbulence of 2000 and 2008.
While they are experienced, surely they cannot be all editors and some of them have lost lustre.
On the other hand, the rookies have been promoted to senior roles yet their work leaves a lot to be desired.
These are journalists who have profited from a patronage system that cared only for an ability to follow the official line.
The three daily newspapers and one Sunday paper waiting in the wings will face a massive skills challenge but their very survival will depend on the quality of their journalism.
Recently NewsDay fired its editor Barnabas Thondhlana before he had launched the paper.
Thondhlana was accused of having failed to attract quality journalists to NewsDay.
He denied having struggled to build an editorial team for NewsDay. “We had over 600 applications but most of them were below par so we ended up handpicking people. It wasn’t my fault. I know they were not happy about that but what could I do.
The statement by Thondhlana mirrors the problems that editors of the new papers will face.
If one single paper could attract 600 applications but still fail to get quality out of the process, then it is hard to fathom three more papers getting quality without upsetting publications that are already operating.
For now, the focus is on the constitution of the ZMC and the anticipated licensing of newspapers.
But, it is not too difficult to see what challenges lie ahead for Zimbabwean journalists and indeed the ordinary populace.
* Guthrie Munyuki is a Zimbabwean journalist.