By Luke Tamborinyoka
Zimbabweans recently read shocking news that prominent ZBC correspondent Reuben Barwe had been elected secretary for information and publicity in the Zanu PF DCC elections somewhere in Manicaland.
While we have always known that the ZBC parrots Zanu PF propaganda, every journalist is aware of the basic ethic that a practising journalist can’t be a member of a political party, let alone an elected senior official of a key organ such as a district co-ordinating committee.
Reuben is a boy’s name of Hebrew origin which is literally derived from the Hebrew words ra’a , meaning “to understand,” and ben which means “son.” As a phrase it translates to “behold, a son.”
Yet, contrary to what his name suggests, Reuben appears not to understand the basic ethics of his profession. He is definitely not a journalism son to behold as his name suggests!
I immediately contacted Nick Mangwana, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services upon hearing the disturbing news of Reuben’s gross violation of journalism ethics by joining active politics while he is still a practising journalist.
I told Mangwana early this week that the nation had every reason to doubt the regime’s commitment to the reform agenda, particularly media reforms, when the chief reporter of a purported public medium becomes a senior official of a political party.
I asked Mangwana, by way of example, how American citizens would respond if the CNN’s chief correspondent would become an office holder in the Republican party, or any other party for that matter.
For the record, this is the response I got from Mangwana, the chief spokesperson of this inept regime when I confronted him on the matter:
” Reuben informed me that he withdrew before the elections but probably that was miscommunicated . But he did not assume the position so there is no story here . ”
There are several problems with this response that I got from Nick.
First, it is a nick of the truth to say there is no story here. This is a scandal of monumental proportions. By alleging that Reuben had withdrawn from the election, Nick is in fact confirming that the ZBC’s chief correspondent had entered the electoral race in the first place, which in itself is at the core of this scandal. One does not withdraw from a race they have not entered. And the charge sheet in Reuben’s case is about a practising journalist having entered a political race in brazen violation of the ethics of his profession.
Secondly, political party members are not in the business of electing non-active members into an executive organ such as the DCC. His mere presence on the DCC list from which Mangwana alleges he later withdrew confirms that Reuben is an active party member in the respective district and this is a fact known to the electoral college which is why they chose to elect him to this top party organ. You don’t just get onto the Arsenal team sheet by mistake if you are not an Arsenal player and if you have never undergone some drills at the Emirates stadium training grounds.
Indeed, all indications are that Reuben is an active politician, a fact known by the Zanu PF electoral college in Makoni district to the extent that they voted for him. That he later chose to withdraw, if this indeed is fact and not a cover-up, is neither here nor there.
I wanted to speak directly to Reuben myself but I failed to reach him. A few years ago I would have banked on bumping into him at Denda shopping centre in Domboshava where we used to meet and chat when he came to Mashinge village in my rural home area of Shumba ward where his wife hailed from.
It is just not allowed in our beloved journalism profession for a practising journalist to dabble in politics. Yes, a journalist may vote for a particular party or candidate of their choice in an election but they cannot be be active party members, let alone holding a position as Reuben has done or has sought to do.
Reuben is not the only culprit. Several journalists mainly from the public media have brazenly violated the cardinal tenet of journalism. In the run-up to the 2018 election, Garikai Mazara (The Sunday Mail), Tendai Munengwa and Andrew Neshamba (both ZBC) participated in Zanu PF primaries but continued to serve on their jobs even after they lost. And no one batted an eyelid and the authorities took no action against them.
The rule is that any journalist who wants to pursue active politics must resign first, as I did on 28 October 2005 when I resigned from my chief news editor’s position at The Daily News to become the MDC’s Director of Information and Publicity. Supa Mandiwanzira, Kindness Paradza and Makhosini Hlongwane also did well by resigning from this noble profession first before pursuing active politics with Zanu PF.
The onus not to show one’s political inclination is far much greater, particularly for journalists in the public media, especially those at the country’s biggest national broadcaster. Section 61 of the country’s Constitution specifically exhorts the public media such as the ZBC to be impartial and to present divergent views. Now would they achieve that impartiality when their reporters are now position holders in Zanu PF?
As I have stated, when journalists decide to trade their microphones, pens and notepads for the party slogans on the political dance floor, they must resign from the profession, as some of us did. It is that simple.
I spent many years as secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists and I get pained when senior journalists who should know better tear asunder the rule book of this noble profession.
Politicians provide stories for journalists to cover and one certainly cannot be both. You can’t run with the hare and hunt with the hounds at the same time. One cannot be the report and the reporter, nay the story and the story teller at the same time.
Only this week on Wednesday night, Reuben Barwe covered the lead story on the ZBC main news bulletin in which he reported that Emmerson Mnangagwa was urging those elected during the chaotic DCC elections to unite the party. Rrrrrrrrreeeuben Barwe could as well have said today the President and First Secretary of Zanu PF urged us to unite the party. Now that he is part of the DCC structures, Reuben was reporting about himself, he was the story and the teller, the report and the reporter conflated into one.
So much for ethics, the public media and the dire need for comprehensive media reforms under the so-called so-called new dispensation.
They say the more things change, the more they remain the same. Yet in our case, everything has gotten worse under this murderous regime. Every ethic in every profession is being annihilated under the regime’s watch.
The reason is simple. Emmerson Mnangagwa is just but a Robert Mugabe on steroids!
—Luke Tamborinyoka is the Deputy Secretary for Presidential Affairs in the MDC Alliance led by Advocate Nelson Chamisa.