Critique and expose flaws in government policies at the heart of “development journalism”

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Lately, there has been a noticeable upsurge in calls – more specifically from Zimbabwean government officials – for the media to focus more on so-called ‘development journalism’.

The latest was from the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Information, Nick Ndavaningi Mangwana, during a presentation yesterday at the National Defense University of Zimbabwe.

Of course, we in the journalism fraternity are fully aware of exactly what those in power would demand – a docile and servile media, which pays attention only to government “development projects and programs” – without ever hold those in power to account, or honestly criticize these policies, or investigate and expose any nefarious activity.

All that is expected from the media is to repeat whatever is expressed by the government and present whatever it does as good for the country and the people.

Such “development journalism” creates media that “see no evil, hear no evil or speak no evil” about the ruling establishment – even when there are blatant incidents of incompetence and mismanagement, as well as the plunder of state resources – all undeniable nonsense – developmental and anti-people.

In fact, it goes without saying that for true development to take place in a nation, it is necessary that those in power be held accountable to the people they lead, ensuring the faithful stewardship of national resources and religiously adhering to the principles of the rule of law, justice and equity.

Surely, what “development” can a nation talk about in the absence of such principles?

Being reduced to mere propaganda tools can never really be described as ‘developmental’.

As such, it may come as a shock to those in power, and even to our colleagues in the media industry that – that the concept of ‘development journalism’ has in fact been suggested as a means of holding governments accountable to their citizens, as opposed to the popular narrative of reducing journalists to mere mouthpieces.

This is a challenge facing our noble profession, mainly because of state-controlled media.

“Development journalism” was conceived in the 1960s at the Press Foundation of Asia (PFA) by Filipino journalists Alan Chalkley and Juan Mercado.

They were primarily concerned with the media’s emphasis on disseminating press releases and government quotes – but paying little attention to detailed analysis, interpretation or evaluation of plans, policies and development issues.

Their concerns led Chalkley and Mercado to organize seminars at the FPA to train journalists in the art of “development journalism”.

Without going into unnecessary detail – as this is not a thesis or dissertation – in a nutshell, the aim was for journalists to offer a critical assessment and interpretation of development plans and their implementation. implemented.

In other words, initially the idea of ​​’development journalism’ was contrary to what we were to see later, especially in despotic regimes like our own Zimbabwe – where these leaders appropriated and perverted this term to mean singing the praises of those in power, showing how “successful” they have been in governing.

In doing so, these self-serving, usually oppressive rulers, in effect took journalism back to what Chalkley and Mercado were against – media that merely shined a light on whatever the ruling elite instructed.

This is why today, what is now called “development journalism” is largely about following government officials and repeating only what they say, and presenting what they present. as “success stories”.

There is a serious lack of critical analysis, assessment or investigation of what is really going on below the surface – attributes necessary to hold authorities accountable to the people who put them in power, and the key to any significant development.

It is only when the government itself decides to “expose” certain anomalies that we finally see largely state-run media acting like them if they are critical and investigative.

A good example of this are several government programs that were clearly flawed from the start – the most recent example being the vaunted “emergency road rehabilitation programme”.

While the private media was already exposing the sloppy work of some of the companies contracted to do this work, as well as questioning the bidding process and how these entities got the contracts in the first place – the government-controlled media were deafeningly silent.

In fact, these slavish spokespeople simply shamelessly reproduced the government’s laughable narrative that there were “saboteurs, enemies of the state and agents of regime change” roaming the country digging roads. newly redone, in order to discredit the good work. of the “new dispensation”!

Surely, can anyone, in all sincerity, ever call this “development journalism”?

When companies benefiting from millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money – intended to develop our country and improve the livelihoods of citizens – misuse and misuse our resources through such deplorable and substandard work, the real ones” development journalists” shouldn’t they be the first to expose this?

It wasn’t until the government finally realized and admitted that it could no longer hide the truth, and that its story was ridiculous – thus becoming clear – that we also saw the state-controlled media follow suit. way.

They are not the type of pioneers of “development journalism” as Chalkley and Mercado had envisioned.

Imagine how many millions of dollars in taxes would have been saved, and the problem of shoddy work quickly stopped – if state media had practiced true “development journalism”.

Yet those who called themselves “patriots” and experts in “development journalism” were complicit in plundering national resources and building substandard work.

As can be clearly seen – those in the private media, who hold those in power accountable and closely monitor how public funds are used – are the true “development journalists” and patriots of this country.

True development can only be achieved when government is held to the highest standards, acts of corruption exposed without fear, and programs and policies always placed under the microscope.

Without such media – which should be the eyes, ears and mouths of ordinary people, not the political elite – there can never be meaningful development in any country.

– Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice advocate, writer, researcher and social commentator. Do not hesitate to contact him on WhatsApp or call him: +263715667700 | +263782283975, or Calls only: +263788897936, or email: [email protected]

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