The Media institute of Southern Africa (Misa) reports that poor salaries and and harsh environment are fuelling corruption which it says is threatening to engulf the profession in Zimbabwe, writes Torby Muturikwa.

In its 2006 African Media Barometer (AMB) report released recently,
Misa say corruption is rampant. “In the case of the media, one of the
main reasons for corruption is the constant fear of losing one’s job
by falling foul of the stipulations set by AIPPA (the Access to
Information and Protection of Privacy Act)

“This exposes
journalists to the temptation to accept bribes and incentives as long
as they are available. Working conditions are poor,” says the watchdog
in the section focusing on Zimbabwe.

The AMB is a
self-assessment exercise done by Africans themselves according to
home-grown criteria. The project, first used by the
Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and Misa in 2005, is the first in-depth and
comprehensive description and measurement system for national media
environments on the African continent.

At the time of the
research, Misa noted that journalists were earning between $3 million
and Z$15 million against a poverty datum line of Z$28 million. The
figures were calculated at the time when Zimbabwe had not lopped off
three zeros from its currency.

At present, Zimbabwe journalists
earn between Z$4 million (R400) and Z$6 million (R600) in the private
media. Journalists in the state media until recently were averaging
Z$400 000 (R40).

Misa said Zimbabwe journalists do not enjoy benefits such as car and housing loans compared to their colleagues in the region.

ask business people not for a bribe, but for a ‘loan’ as condition for
a favourable article. They regularly get ‘presents’ such as radio 3-cd
changers, beds and assets from persons who want to avoid having
negative stories written about them.

“Certain politicians are
always frequenting the press meeting point, the Quill Club, where
invitations start with lunch and progress until something more
substantial is offered and the terms are spelt: I can help with
bridging your loan gaps. I have influence and I can assist with the
bureaucrats,” said Misa.

Misa say in one case, a journalist was
offered “a little ladder” to get him to finish his house in return for
having a politician’s story published.

It reports the current
operating environment where repressive laws have inhibited free
and improvement of working conditions, are deepening the
media’s problems.

It cites laws like the Public Order Security Act (POSA), AIPPA, Official Secrets Act and the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA).

for example, makes it a criminal offence to publish or communicate
false statements prejudicial to the state. A person may be fined or
imprisoned for up to five years for publishing ‘a false’ statement
likely to incite public disorder, affect the defence and economic
interests of the country, or undermine public confidence in the police,
armed forces or prison officers,” observes Misa.

The AMB looked at the harsh press laws which require journalists and their publishing houses to be licensed before operating.

In the case of the BSA, it decries the monopoly of the state broadcaster the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings (ZBH).

bars foreign funding of either television or radio stations and as such
has frightened away investment in the sector, while local investors are
deterred by punitive costs of licence applications of US$100 000.

the AIPPA and BSA have seen the closure of newspapers and television
stations in Zimbabwe. Under AIPPA, four papers have been shut down
while Joy TV, a private station was banned. Several prospective radio
investors have been denied licences.

Meanwhile, a Harare
magistrates Court has moved the trial of local journalist Gift Phiri to
July from June 4 as the trial magistrate is currently on leave.

who writes for London-based Zimbabwean weekly, the Zimbabwean, is
charged with contravening AIPPA by practicing journalism without

He is currently out on bail of Z$100,000 (R4) with stringent reporting conditions.