Media academics, professionals trade barbs over brown envelope culture

Fitzgerald Munyoro

The publishing of supposed bribery expose within media circles in a local weekly last week has triggered a debate within key figures in the media industry and has had the stakeholders in the media industry on a fact-finding and finger-pointing swivel.  

The story which appeared in The Standard was penned by a writer under the alias of Nyaradzo Nyere, is a vivid but nameless account of how journalist A&B attempted to silence Nyere from publishing a damning story that indicted a reputable tobacco company of short-changing farmers.

Acting on behalf of the company, the two unidentified journalists are alleged to have offered Nyere USD $2 000 to kill the story.

Nyere claims to have refused the offer and says she has recordings and other incriminating evidence of the ordeal.

Debate and discussion have been aplomb in social media circles and in journalism camps, information gathered from these discourses indicates that the culture of taking bribes is deep-rooted and Nyere’s story was just the tip of the iceberg.

In a fact-finding press session held on Friday, stakeholders from Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ), Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ), Zimbabwe National Editors Forum (ZINEF), and veteran journalist Geoffrey Nyarota weighed in on the matter.

Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe director Loughty Dube said that brown envelope journalism has been compounded by the churning out of poor caliber of journalists who are not well entrenched in ethics.

“The training institutions are only employing lecturers on the basis of degrees, thereby creating a huge divide between academia and actual work experience. In most cases, those degreed individuals lack experience within the field yet they are tasked with training future media practitioners who are supposed to be functional within the media industry.” said Dube.

This idea was echoed by Zinef coordinator Njabulo Ncube who said that more experience from the newsroom should be invoked into journalism and media academia.

‘The issue of half-baked products can be mitigated by institutions allowing practicing trainers to be associate lecturers.”

However, Proffesor Nhamo Mhiripiri who holds a doctoral degree in media and cultural studies from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and chairs the media department at Midlands State University rebutted these ideas.

‘That is a mistaken but long-standing impression from practicing senior journalists. They have never assessed the journalist practice of lecturers and their academic qualifications, or what makes one eligible to lecture.”

“A reasonable number of lecturers have some background in media, public relations, film, political communication, etc. Several have worked at leading media organizations such as Zimpapers, Ziana, ZBC, The Mirror, Standard, etc or they have freelanced.”

The old minimum academic qualification to be a lecturer is a Master’s degree, but now it is a doctoral qualification.”

“We always want to balance academic qualifications and practical input from Industry, and when stakeholders bring intellectual or material resources these have been welcome and appreciated.”

“Academics and journalists ought to understand each other better and complement each other in a cordial manner. Practitioners also have to be broad-minded and see the diverse requirements in media and communications degree programs that might entail expert and intellectual requirements that go beyond journalism.”

Zimbabwe media commission chairperson Professor Ruth Magosvongwe also called for harmonization of the industry and journalism training schools.

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