The quality of journalism in Zimbabwe is shoddy.
That doesn’t surprise me, considering the polarised climate our media operates in. Our media space is dominated by the shrill, sensationalist and completely unaccountable Herald and ZBC. There is no story too outrageous, insulting or blatantly false to publish, as long as it pleases the narrow political views of their political dog-handlers.
The private media seem to have fallen into a trap, where they feel the need to cut corners and tabloidise in order to compete. Instead of sticking to principles and ethics, they’re starting to follow The Herald into the dark pit of shoddy journalism.
The only way for private papers to maintain their credibility gap with Zimpapers is to stick to the straight and narrow with regards to news-gathering, and sourcing their reports.
A simple example is the growing use of anonymous quotes in articles. Anonymity is now so widespread, and abused, that it’s almost become de rigeur.
Newspapers are giving people space and anonymity to insult their political opponents or spread rumours, without a shred of accountability or even the opportunity for verification. And I don’t mean papers claiming they have two independent sources, so the story is verified. No, I mean we, the readers, determining the credibility of your story by knowing who your sources are.
Back to the present, the burning issue of the “10 year-olds to get condoms” story is a prime example of lazy journalism.
The original story appeared in the Sunday Mail. The reporter interviewed a Ministry of Health official about a new policy. Of course, it deserved a screaming headline: 10-year-olds to legally get contraceptives
“The current framework for the National Adolescence Sexual and Reproductive Health Strategy (ASRH) for 2010 to 2015 allows adolescents to access contraceptives although the country’s legislation sues any individual who indulges in sexual activities with a girl under the age of 16.”
Statistics from the Zimbabwe Demographic and Health Survey (ZDHS) and Ministry of Health and Child Welfare parastatals show that the number of teenage pregnancies is high and continues to increase.
“We are concerned as a ministry. So, therefore, we want to strengthen the ASRH programmes.” …
“Most adolescents are being sexually active. Some have actually gone on to become parents.”
Notice that Dr Bernard Madzima has used the word “adolescent”. At no point does he say 10-year-olds. That is slipped in by the reporter, a Sharon Kavhu.
In an interview last week, the director of family health in the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Dr Bernard Madzima, said authorities took the decision following a sharp increase in teenage pregnancies and a high maternal mortality rate.
Dr Madzima said those who visit designated dispensaries are first counselled before the contraceptives are issued. The World Health Organisation defines adolescents as those between the ages of 10 and 24.
Now, the Sunday Mail created a screaming headline which, technically, was not factual. It’s something they came up with, and decided to use. The sensationalism helped them sell a shitload of papers, and has obviously generated a whole bunch of pageviews for them. As intended. That is okay.
The problem I have is with the follow-up stories, in the seemingly credible media. None of these stories have actually followed the hook of the story (10-year-olds) but have taken that as stipulated fact and run with it.
This may sound strangely outrageous, but that is the world we are fast heading to. Our government, through the Ministry of Health and Child Care, is already working towards coming up with laws that will allow children as young as 10 years old to access contraceptives such as condoms, birth control pills, implants and injectables as a way to prevent teenage pregnancies.
Even the Daily News has been at it. There has been outrage on the radio, discussions in pubs, an uproar on social media.
All for what? Did none of these so-called journalists bother to call Dr Madzima (or anyone at the Ministry of Health) and ask them, clearly, to define what the MOH means by adolescent?
Surely, with all the national uproar, they would have verified the lynchpin of their stories before publishing, right?
If they did, and I doubt they did, and someone did say that MOH defines adolescent as 10-24 years old, like the WHO does, then fine. Publish that. Lend some credibility.
But just running with it as if you’re chasing Sunday Mail’s tail, without actually checking what the facts are? That’s just lazy.
You should be ashamed of yourselves.