Opinion & Analysis

Satirical journalism isn’t only for laughs

THE Video Assistant Referee stumbled upon a most interesting academic paper this week titled “Succession Politics and Factional Journalism in Zimbabwe: A Case of The Chronicle in Zimbabwe”.

Written in 2020 by distinguished academics Wallace Chuma, Mbongeni Msimanga and Lungile Tshuma, the paper explored the emergence and manifestation of factional journalism within Zimbabwe’s State media in the twilight of the late former president Robert Mugabe’s ruinous rule.

In doing this, the paper examined the role and influence of editors and journalists in the succession wars of six years ago, while locating factional journalism in the context of the “erosion of journalistic agency” within State media then.

One of the editors of The Chronicle during this era was VAR’s homeboy and dear comrade, Mduduzi Mathuthu (yes, we both come from kontuthu ziyathunqa and drink together regularly) — the sociable and Glenfiddich-loving proprietor of ZimLive, where all the for-sale scandals of prominent politicians currently appear to find a ready home!

Fascinating insights

The paper’s authors concluded that political journalism within public media at the time became subordinate to whichever faction controlled the government’s information portfolio, as well as which faction deployed its “allocative powers to reward and punish specific forms of political reporting”.

They found that that within the titanic factional battles which pitted the G40 against Team Lacoste then, The Chronicle under Cde Mathuthu published prominent stories which were mainly from the G40 side and which supported their political position regarding that raging succession.

“In our analysis of The Chronicle’s coverage of the factional succession battles within Zanu PF, we identified three dominant themes under the following topics: scandalising factional members, selective sourcing and use of derogatory terms.

“These themes appear prominent in the newspaper’s endeavours in pushing a factional agenda during Mathuthu’s tenure and after him. In its quest to pursue a factional agenda during this period, the paper reported on ‘scandals’ centred on the Team Lacoste faction.

“During the Mathuthu era, the newspaper condemned Team Lacoste members as ‘successionists’, especially war veterans who openly endorsed Mnangagwa as their preferred successor.

“Some of the terms that are also used include ‘murderers’, ‘tribalist’, ‘rogue’, ‘demonic’ and ‘violent’ … The use of such terms was meant to present the rival faction as illegitimate and therefore incapable of taking over the leadership after Mugabe,” the authors said.

Interviewed by the academics on why his approach as editor was factional then, Mathuthu claimed that he was “supporting the government, before refusing to explain or support his position in the political matrix”.

“This claim was (however) contested by the Chronicle reporters interviewed … In separate interviews, journalists said they were instructed to frame stories using specific terms meant to soil factional rivals and this was the only way for a reporter to seek glory as their stories would land on the front page.

“Reporters also said at times their stories would be ‘spiked’ and what they would have written would appear different when the story was published,” the authors added rather damningly. Eish!

Daily News Fixation

Although VAR is not a journalist, he wonders whether this fascinating paper offers some helpful clues to why Cde Mathuthu is not a fan of the Daily News’ non-partisan approach to its reportage — which is contra to his political take.

And could this also explain why he appears to spend so much time and energy analysing and criticising the Daily News on social media, rather than improving his own website, and thus taking advantage of the perceived weaknesses of a major competitor?

The Video Assistant Referee cannot believe that our companionable Cde Mathuthu actually believes — in the Year of Our Lord 2022 — that only pro-G40 or anti-Lacoste stories “sell a newspaper” in Zim.

Hee, hee, heee! May God have mercy on ZimLive as the teapot country normalises.

Real Journalism

It is worth reminding young writers at this point that real journalism is very different from the gossip, crass punditry and factional slander that makes up much of today’s news in Zim.

Indeed, credible journalists and media houses take great care in presenting facts and distinguishing them from opinions. They also don’t seek to agitate the public, or to stir controversy for fun, as some commissars and their websites do.

Until next week, Azishe