By Enoch Sithole

Journalism educators in Zimbabwe feel they can say what they like in the classroom – but always fear that statements could be “misinterpreted” by politically powerful players. 

At the same time, the constrained media landscape has meant that few graduates end up in newsrooms, preferring more lucrative positions in NGOs.

Two Zimbabwean journalism academics, Prof Mphathisi Ndlovu of the National University of Science and Technology and Golden Maunganidze of the Great Zimbabwe University School of Media and Communication, discussed the situation journalism education in the country with Ajenda.

Prof Ndlovu said: “I think there is some element of academic freedom in terms of what you teach in your class. Of course, there’s always a sense of fear that whatever you’re going to be saying in class can be misinterpreted and be seen differently by those who are politically powerful. But in terms of the freedom to actually say what you want to say, I don’t think there’s a lot of influence.”

The country has a poor reputation for media freedom, and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranks Zimbabwe 126 out of 180 countries on its media freedom index. RSF says the media landscape is exhibiting an encouraging increase in diversity but remains dominated by state-controlled media led by the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) and Zimpapers. They control six radio stations, a TV channel and 10 newspapers, including The Herald daily newspaper. 

                              Prof Mphathisi Ndlovu

The privately-owned Daily News and The Financial Gazette, a weekly, are also widely distributed. Alpha Media Holdings (AMH) publishes the daily NewsDay and the weekly The Independent, which are also widely circulated. There are four independent news websites, including Zimlive and The Newshawks, and 14 community radio stations.

RSF has criticised the recent passing of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Amendment Bill, or Patriot Bill, saying it was meant to curtail freedom of expression and could be used to imprison journalists covering political meetings in the country.  

While there is no data on journalism education in the country, journalism is taught in several universities and non-academic institutions. Graduates have found jobs in newsrooms, but there is now a trend where a lot of them are employed by non-governmental organisations, doing communication for development, strategic communication or public relations work, said Prof Ndlovu. They opt for these organisations because they tend to offer better pay compared to media houses, he added.

Newsrooms have often complained that the graduates they get from journalism schools are poorly prepared for the work environment, claiming that the training they get does not meet the needs of the newsrooms. 

Prof Ndlovu concurred, saying one of the sources of the problem is that journalism schools lag behind when it comes to digital technologies, while newsrooms tend to be ahead in usage of these technologies. “When students go for attachment in the newsrooms, they find that they are not familiar with some of the technologies being used,” said Prof Ndlovu. Journalism schools lack the funds to keep up with the constant inventions of media technologies. 

                    Golden Maunganidze

While Maunganidze was aware of the concerns about appropriate teaching, he thought it was sometimes not a genuine concern, but an excuse to avoid employing young graduates. “Some of these students spend up to a year interning in newsrooms before going back to finish their degrees. But when they have graduated and ask for jobs, they are told they are not ready for the newsroom,” he argued.

Prof Ndlovu added that another big concern from the newsrooms in Zimbabwe was the fact that most newsrooms expected journalists to work in a multimedia environment involving print, online and broadcast journalism. Journalism schools offered training in multimedia production but did not seem to meet the needs of the newsrooms, he added. 

Enrolment numbers had remained constant, said Prof Ndlovu, suggesting that journalism was still viewed as a viable profession by young people. However, Prof Ndlovu was concerned that teaching was not catching up with new digital technologies, something that needed urgent attention. “We don’t have enough resources… As an educator, I want to equip students in terms of all these new issues. If you don’t have resources, it becomes difficult.”

Civil society organisations also provided training and digital equipment, which helped alleviate the problem of a lack of resources in journalism schools. 

Informal trainers also provided training in technical areas such as camera work and the operating of several pieces of equipment used in media production. 

With the country going to presidential and parliamentary elections on August 23, there are expectations that the results could improve the space for media and freedom of expression, which in turn could augur well for journalism training.