POORLY resourced newsrooms and inexperienced journalists have combined to allow high level corruption to go largely unreported through investigative journalism in a country ranked among the most corrupt in the world.
This was expressed by editors and senior journalists during a recent Harare seminar called by an anti-corruption NGO, Information for Development Trust (IDT), which has partnered newsrooms to sponsor investigative journalism in the past months.
Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe executive director Loughty Lofty Dube, whose organisation also sponsors investigative journalism, also said most published investigative stories were “run of the mill” owing to lack of resources, skill and time to pursue them.
“We noted as part of our baseline was that there was lack of investigative journalism skills.; basic things like investigative questioning lines.
“You can also kill your own story through poor questioning techniques. We noticed that there was lack of depth in terms of skills for investigative stories,” Dube said.
Kholwani Nyathi, editor of the privately owned weekly, The Standard, also said investigative stories have been affected by a job carnage among senior staffers within newsrooms.
“In the past five or 10 years, media organisations have been retrenching and most of those affected were senior people who could provide guidance and institutional knowledge on journalism,” Nyathi said.
He said most papers were short staffed at senior level leaving editors more occupied with the day to day running of the papers and spending less time mentoring their juniors.
Former Chronicle and Daily News editor Geoffrey Nyarota said newspapers needed to groom their own investigative journalists and also provide funding for it.
“There is need for creating a base for skilful investigative journalism. You cannot investigate if you do not possess the relevant skills.
“You can undertake pseudo investigative journalism which only gets you into trouble sooner rather than later,” said Nyarota who called for passion among journalists taking up investigative journalism.
Local news organisations have struggled to maintain positive balance sheets at a time they are also spending months without paying employees.
Against that background, it was difficult to set aside funds to finance investigative stories which demand a lot in terms of time and resources.
Resultantly, newspaper stories have largely concentrated on events and court stories which do not go any deeper in unravelling the extent of the corruption cases being cited.
This has allowed those involved in high level corruption to escape with murder.
The office of the Auditor General continues to release valuable leads to areas on corruption within central and local governments as well as State run firms.
Apart from merely picking the text from the reports and attempts to balance it with comments from the opposition, little has been done to dig deeper on the extent of the reported corruption.
Journalists who put their lives on the line to uncover corruption by the powerful have also expressed frustration at government’s failure to act on the rot uncovered through their stories.
While many award winning investigative stories have been written in post-independence Zimbabwe, few have been as impactful as the Willowgate Scandal in 1999 which saw ministers fired by President Mugabe for their involvement in the scandal.
Since the time, President Mugabe has been reluctant to act.
While always ready to chorus his favourite statement, ‘zero tolerance to corruption’ at public fora, the Zimbabwean leader has been accused of turning a blind eye when evidence of corruption is presented before him.
The only time he has taken decisive action on any of his aides was in 2014-15 when he fired his deputy Joice Mujuru and several others over unproven allegations of attempting to overthrow him.-New Zimbabwe.com