The Chronicle, a national daily paper in Zimbabwe that reaches more than 28 percent of a population of 16 million, this month falsely reported that Morocco is the only country that has managed to vaccinate more of its citizens in Africa than Zimbabwe. The story in The Chronicle is only one example of the vicious cycle of news and sourcing of stories around Covid 19 that has taken place over the past months.
The newspaper that is domiciled in the city of Bulawayo on 20 September published a story that claimed that “Zimbabwe is leading African countries in rolling out Covid-19 vaccines, with reports that 13 percent of its population has been inoculated against the deadly virus, with targets to reach herd immunity by year-end.”
This was immediately debunked by ZimFact, Zimbabwe’s first national, independent and non-partisan fact-checking platform, launched in 2018 and partly supported by Fojo Media Institute (Fojo) and the International Media Support (IMS).
Cris Chinaka, the Editor in Chief of ZimFact, explains the media’s coverage of COVID-19:
-Over the last 18 months the whole world has focused on health matters and Covid-19 coverage has become one of our major centres of coverage. People now have a great need of information due to the infodemic that is taking place in this era of social media.
He added that the story in The Chronicle was a good example of the vicious cycle of news and sourcing of stories around Covid 19.
-The story in The Chronicle was sourced from Our World In Data portal but the latest available data from the portal shows that Zimbabwe had, as of September 19, 2021, vaccinated 13,69% of its population. This would place the country behind the Seychelles, Mauritius, Morocco, Tunisia and Eswatini, but ahead of South Africa, Rwanda, Botswana and Egypt, Chinaka said pointing to the misinformation in the article.
On 28 September the world will be celebrating the International Day for Universal Access to Information. The theme of the 2021 International Day for Universal Access to Information will highlight the role of access to information laws and their implementation to build back strong institutions for the public good and sustainable development, as well as to strengthen the right to information and international cooperation in the field of implementing this human right.
-The problem we have observed is that editorially, depending on the publication, information can be manipulated to suit a certain political slant. The way the pandemic was covered was sensational despite that the media was only starting to understand that this was more than a back page story.
For Rutendo Kambarami, a mother of two, social media has brought challenges:
– Digital media has changed the way I consume news, it has given me the option to choose which news I want to relate to. The downside is that an information highway has been created making it difficult to tell misinformation from facts. As a mother there has been a delve of information for example on vaccination and breastfeeding and to this day I do not know what to believe.
On the other hand, journalists trying to cover news during Covid 19 faced obstacles, from harassment to difficulty in accessing information.
According to a media report published by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), in Zimbabwe Covid-19 led to an upsurge of police and military violence against media workers.
Tabani Moyo , Zimbabwe Country Director and Acting Regional Secretariat Director of MISA said:
– This year’s International Day for Universal Access to Information comes at a time that is quite challenging compared to others. The theme by UNESCO this year is that “The Right to Know. Building Back Better with Access to Information’. It is key to always have access to information. However, although there have been progressive steps by the government of Zimbabwe, such as post cabinet briefings which gave the nation information about decisions at higher level, there are still gaps. One such is the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) failing to come up with regulations around how to get access to information from public bodies.”
He added that ZMC is an arm of appeal according to the Freedom of Information Act and must urgently address these challenges.
-The government should urgently protect the way in which the media operates in securing information and dissemination. This year we received reports of journalists being attacked when they were performing their duties during Covid-19 lockdown regulations. It is key to note that the right to information is a right for every citizen to be well-enough informed to make wise decisions about their own future, Moyo said.
He said communities must be able to make critical decisions in their day to day lives.
-We urge the government to protect the kind of information that enables journalism to verify, expose, and explain reality while inspiring the kind of self-reflection and critical thinking that our society requires.