A Blessing Hungwe Edit
The Executive, Judiciary and the Legislature are three arms of the state
The three arms of the state plays complementary role in the smooth administration of the country.
These arms of state are powerful and they are necessary to ensure that no one arm become too powerful than the other with a common goal of providing best administration to the nation.
These arms may collude to wield more power than their mandate and resultantly they become dictatorial in approach to the citizens.
Media plays a watchdog role of reporting against heavy handedness, laxity or colluding of the arms of the state which if unchecked can lead to abuse of citizens rights.
The media overtime has become and has been widely acknowledged as the fourth estate.
Media plays a watchdog role, as it superintends the three arms of the state to ensure that they are doing their prerogative roles and report any deviation.
So as to have an appreciation of the role of media it is of significance to outline the political economy of the media.
The political economy refers and is not limited to the ownership, control and management.
Ownership of the Media
For this piece of writing, the mainstream media will be used to elucidate the facts as ownership follows a systematic sequence easier to grasp.
Ownership can be state owned / state controlled and independent owned.
Ownership can be independent but content is usually not that independent.
Newspapers, Radio and Television are the main stream media which will be relayed to in the write up.
The mainstream media have also diversified by incorporating the internet with several media handles online but ownership structure remain the same.
Media is in the business of gathering and disseminating news and just like any other business they are in business to make money.
Radio and television ownership in Zimbabwe is in the hands or controlled by the state and people closely related to the people in power, the ruling elites.
To acquire broadcasting licence in Zimbabwe is a mammoth task for those not connected to powerful individuals.
When media ownership is vested in the hands of few individuals connected in terms of power hierarchies, it becomes a big challenge to perform the watchdog role as their licencing might be at risk meaning they cannot or they will not report anything wrong about those that have influence upon their setup.
The newspaper landscape in Zimbabwe is slightly different from the broadcast media.
The common factor being both are business entities and they are in for profits and they will not report negatively against those entities that impact their business.
The print media ownership is diverse and those in power have spread their tentacles in taking ownership in once independently owned media such as the Daily News.
The print media is heavily polarised with a distinct polarity along political lines.
Media houses are viewed as either pro government, aligning themselves with the ruling party or pro opposition political parties.
The watchdog role of the media is compromised as reportage is along political divisions and not as it should be.
When media is biased, they become lap dogs of political players and in the case of the state, there is failure to hold it to account and inversely opposition aligned media there is failure to report progressive issues by the state.
The writeup is categorically clear that the media are business entities which are profit driven.
Media entities make their money through allocating advertising space on their platforms to corporates and individuals
Since the media can reach masses, the corporate world believe that their marketing messages can also reach masses if distributed through the media.
Advertisers put a lot of money in the media on advertisements and as such have power to determine where to place their adverts and when so that they reach their intended audience.
By so doing the advertisers have an influence on the editorial policy of the media. So as to continue benefiting from advertising money, the media have to toe the line of their funders.
This compromises the integrity of media’s role as the watchdog. Media integrity is questioned because of the media’s need to please advertisers against discharging their mandate to educate, entertain and inform.
The government inorder to escape the scrutiny of the media have also devised ways of lapping the media which is too critical about government operations.
The propaganda may include name calling. In Zimbabwe all media which are critical of government are labelled appendages of the west which are are agitating for regime change.
When those media are repeatedly called regime change agents, usually they lower down their tempo on being too critical to the government.
When censorship takes centre stage then the watchdog role is compromised.
The Executive have often times used the Legislature to craft media laws that inhibits free access to certain information and outlawed dissemination of certain information.
The Patriotic Act is one such law that impinges on the media watchdog role in the country.
Journalists and media houses self-censor the information so that they will not find themselves facing the full wrath of draconian laws.
Though the Zimbabwean media has been barking on certain issues, as mandated by their watchdog role the consequences have adverse effects to media personnel and corporates.
Journalists have been arrested for speaking about corruption, ill-treatment of the citizens in the hands of security forces among other issues.
Through reasons beyond their control and some within their control, the media in Zimbabwe are not effectively performing their watch dog role and one can comfortably state that the media in Zimbabwe plays a lap dog role.