Ethics are the backbone of journalism

Innocent Mujeri

Last week, the mainstream media as well as some digital platforms were awash with news of Simba Chikanza, the editor of the online publication Zimeye, who was attempting to blackmail the First Lady Amai Auxillia Mnangagwa into granting him an interview.

Chikanza, who previously held an off the record interview with the First Lady, wrote, ‘Dear Mrs Auxillia Mnangagwa, if you don’t call me and we finish our interview, I’m going to be left with no other option than to reveal your (incomplete) video call to me running over 35 minutes long. I’m giving you 8hs after which I will have no option but make the public watch.’ It was as if Chikanza was trying to use unnecessary pressure to force Amai Mnangagwa into granting him an interview.

What Chikanza did to Amai Mnangagwa last week was a serious breach of media ethics. As a seasoned journalist, Chikanza should have known that as much as the media was free to discharge its duties in the society, it needs to follow ethics in collecting and disseminating the news by ensuring objectivity and fairness in conveying information to society. Maybe, it’s high time we remind Chikanza of ethical principles that a journalist should follow when conducting his duties.

As a way of description, media ethics are values like trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, truth and self-restraint to be practised by the media people voluntarily, to preserve and promote the trust of the people and to maintain their own credibility and not betray the faith and confidence of the people. Ethics again, are the inner superintendent decent moralities, ideals and opinions that people use to analyse or interpret a situation and then decide what the right way to behave is. It seems Chikanza has forgotten all this and the task is now on us to school him on ethics.

Chikanza should be reminded of responsible journalism, which media scholar, Dennis McQuail said in his book, ‘Media Accountability and Freedom of Publication.’ In his book, McQuail points out that the power of the media, like that of government, has to be used in a legitimate way. He says that without responsibility in journalism, the fight for media freedom was like shooting oneself in the foot to walk better. McQuail’s thoughts and aphorisms were based on the general principle that media institutions and journalists that hold government officials and prominent people accountable will themselves display qualities of good governance expected from government, which includes truthfulness and transparency. The writer agrees with McQuail’s sentiments and believes that journalists such as Chikanza need to be accountable and take responsibility in their reporting.

What Chikanza did to the First Lady defeats the general belief that media acts as a bridge between the state and public.  Chikanza should stop using the power of the media to score cheap political goals but should use the media as an informer, motivator or leader for healthy democracy at all levels. Media should remain the backbone of society. It should continue to serve as bringers of cultural heritage and social values, not as a platform to issue threats or blackmail others.

The Zimeye editor should know that the deliberate blackmailing of a news source and publication of fake is an aberration in journalism practice. And such sophist intentions and dissemination of falsehood and blackmailing of people is a depravity against humanity meant to spread fear and also to create an environment for extortion. Again what Chikanza did to the First Lady was a total negation of journalism and news values. It erodes public trust in the media.

Chikanza’s behaviour of arm-twisting his sources to grant him interviews is nothing but unethical behaviour used by fake journalists who have no respect for morality. This type of journalists does anything, even if it means fabricating facts to destroy people’s reputations.

One would have thought that by now Chikanza should be working to restore his credibility as a journalist that has been affected by his continued publication of fake news. It’s not only the First Lady who has fallen victim to Chikanza’s unethical journalism, but a number of prominent people including Dr Alex Magaisa, Thokozani Khupe, Olinda Chapel and Kuda Musasiwa. They have all accused Chikanza of publishing falsehoods. Musasiwa at one time labelled Chikanza an evil person while social media influence Wellence Mujuru told Chikanza that his continued breach of ethics had the potential of destroying people’s lives.

Journalists who are resident in Zimbabwe should not emulate the unethical behaviour of Chikanza but should thrive to verify facts before publishing articles and they should not blackmail news sources. It’s also high time Voluntary Media Commission of Zimbabwe (VMCZ), Zimbabwe National Editors Forum and the Zimbabwe Media Commission emphasize the place of professionalism and ethics in the media.