May 3 is World Press Freedom Day
A day to raise awareness of the importance of freedom of the press and remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression.
For a second I thought to myself what does press freedom have to do with me? I am not a journalist, I don’t work for a media practitioner…..
But like everyone else I pick up a newspaper and browse through, sometimes I find articles about journalists being arrested or detained, cameras and voice recorders being confiscated or destroyed. Media blankets from certain proceedings….. or key government officials calling media parasites or a circus….
According to the Reporters Without Boarders website Zimbabwe Ranks 128 on the World Press Index a ranking based on RSF’s assessment of the countries’ press freedom records in the previous year.
I won’t say I am a supporter of the press but it has always existed to fill the information gap and they should be able to disseminate truthful information without bias or prejudice or fear, but at the end of the day; Media Houses are a business, and they provide news and information not as a benevolent act but their bottom line is to make money; to sell newspapers, to sell advertising space and whatever else that pays that puts food on their table….
It’s quite easy for The Press to slide down the slippery slope of only covering sensational stories, emotive news that stirs emotion and likewise sales and once down that path its quite easy to start making up your own news when there is none, speculative opinion pieces dressed up as fact; or whomsoever butters their bread tells them to cover a particular story and not another.
Sometimes the media seems nothing more than a tool whose sole purpose is to build or destroy politicians…
Pick a paper any paper what are the odds the leading story is political…
And sometimes it’s a voice for the voiceless and a defender of the people’s liberties but who defends defender……
I remember once getting a communique that was supposedly from Ministry of Information’s office to various radio stations informing them not to cover news on certain protests as it would glamourize civil disobedience…..
It must be tough being part of the government machine, how many secrets you must keep, I am sure it’s with good intentions (at first) you keep these secrets to maintain order( I would like to believe) . It’s not hard to imagine how people were to react if they were told for example the government only has enough money or water or other basic need for one more month before the country reserves run dry, mayhem and chaos…. I have seen the apocalyptic movies where people become mindless animals when they don’t have hope….
Sometimes it seems like hope is more important than truth……
So the state keeps a secret, to preserve hope, a curious journalist sniffs out a scoop and what happens next has happened before and will probably happen again.
If governments didn’t keep so many secrets, if they trusted its citizens not to react like base creatures and properly explained; If good governance meant transparency maybe Press Freedoom would not even be an issue….. but cows come home to roost; scandals break out, politicians fall out of favour, new politicians rise and they become exactly the system they criticized, and so the cycle continues….
And now we live in the internet age which has brought with it a paradigm shift of how we consume THE NEWS…. Anyone with a smartphone and an internet connection is suddenly a pseudo-journalist. Something happens, you capture it on your phone, you tweet it, blog it and share it via WhatsApp and in seconds it has gone viral before traditional media houses can even say “BREAKING NEWS”
Its absolutely brilliant but it has its pitfalls such as the increase in unverified information or downright slanderous gossip masquerading as fact being peddled by people seeking their two minutes of internet notoriety; for example celebrities have been “killed” several times over, fake news, satirical and downright cyber victimization (leaking of chats, pictures and videos)
Small wonder governments are trying to find ways of monitoring and regulating the internet….. it’s an unruly information jungle. But if only they did with the intention of safeguarding citizens it’s simply a way of controlling information, information is power.
Once the was a time when all internet service was down and conspiracy theorists claim it was a directive from the government trying to stop a citizen protest which rallied around the national flag as it was deemed that the protests were being mobilized via social media.
Our government is trying to pass Cyber Act which gives them power to arrest people deemed to be inciting violence or causing unnecessary alarm and despondency…….
The Press is no longer some journalist with press card and a column in a newspaper, The Press is someone in your phonebook, in your contacts list, in your email, in your whatsapp group, the next person whose tweet you retweet….
Are you really free if you are afraid to speak? How will you be heard when you do not speak?