Media Freedom for Socio-Economic, Democratic Transformation

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Last week, I had the honour of participating in the Zimpapers TV Network (ZTN) media forum that brought together the Permanent Secretary Mr Nick Mangwana and prominent veteran journalists with divergent views. Thanks to ZTN, I was given an opportunity to share my thoughts on the role of the media in advancing sustainable development and in defining a common denominator to promote and protect national interest as well as frame a national narrative for progressive socio-economic and democratic agenda.

By Bishow Parajuli

As the Fourth Estate of Government, the media has a big role to play in shaping public opinion, promoting development, democracy and good governance, facilitating nation-building, and advancing policies that promote a high quality of life for all.

And of course, providing constructive criticism when policies veer off course from design, plan to implementation.

It takes all of us to make a difference.

For example, this month, the UN and all its stakeholders, including the media, continue to reflect on the Charter of the United Nations and the leaders who have had the courage and foresight to look past old enmities, grievances and differences.

This year marks 73 years since the founding of the United Nations. Born out of war and conflict, mistrust and pain, the United Nations continues to strive towards a world without war and deprivation.

The United Nations is a beacon of hope around which our shared vision for a better world is crystallised.

It remains our shared “space” for sharing ideas, voicing our beliefs no matter who we are, and standing together behind a set of time-tested core values. Hence, the United Nations Charter begins with these words that belong to each of us:

“We the Peoples of the United Nations… reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women, and of nations large and small.”

Despite all its shortcomings and limitations, the story of the United Nations is about uniting to advance the inherent goodness of human values and aspirations. Equally, the media in Zimbabwe can identify and promote the inherent goodness, values and aspirations that define the people of Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe has adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 goals with 169 targets that aim to end poverty, hunger, inequality, and promote justice, peace, gender equality, good health, quality education, jobs, innovation, environmental protection and strong partnership.

Government leads in the implementation and achievement of these goals, but it cannot do so alone.

Fostering multi-stakeholder engagement and partnership is essential to achieve these goals.

The media has critical role in advancing all the SDGs in general and the goals that specifically speak to the media, such as SDG 16, which promotes peace, justice and building strong institutions.

Success on SDGs not only depends on growing the economy, but also on the media facilitating a constructive narrative of engagement.

The role of development assistance is necessary, but not sufficient for the achievement of the SDGs. There is a strong need and a case for the private sector and business to play a significant role.

The media also has a big role in sending positive and hopeful messages that outline a positive narrative of Zimbabwe as an investment destination.

On the social and environmental issues — the issues of gender-based violence, child marriages and other harmful practices, and threats of climate change, respectively must be addressed and the media has the role and responsibility to create the sense of urgency for change.

Media has a multiplicity of roles to play in this process. It is the bridge between Government or policy makers and the people. It is the ears and eyes of the people and must observe and listen to the concerns of the people.

Despite all odds, the struggle of ordinary Zimbabweans is that of resilience, perseverance, doing more with less, and achieving outstanding accomplishments — not of misery, despair, and hopelessness. I have seen young girls and boys in ICT innovation hubs developing computer programmes and applications.

I have seen female-headed households improving their livelihoods with nominal assistance engaging in fishing and artefact business.

I have witnessed farming households earn a decent income from farming through hard work and with minimal assistance, yet our media reporting is still biased towards personality-based, sensational political stories.

Social media has gained traction across the globe, and it is no surprise that an increasing number of Zimbabweans have access to it primarily through WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter.

This access is an opportunity because it provides people with multiple sources of information, gives people a space to voice their opinions and concerns across boundaries of place and time, and allows them to engage one another in discussions on key issues beyond the confines of their communities.

As trend-setters, mainstream media should embrace the ascent of social media, and find ways to harness its potential to bring about socio-economic progress.

The growing digital media has made it easier for local news to have global reach. As such, what the media broadcasts and writes at local level has a ramification in defining a certain national narrative and/or image at a global scale.

It is against this background that the media fraternity must enhance participation and engagement in Zimbabwe’s development processes and mobilise the people to participate in development discourse.

The media must ensure coverage on the outstanding work of rural and urban communities and women, even their daily challenges.

The media must take advantage of the prevailing Press space to empower and transform the citizens of this country to take ownership of and participate in the country’s development process to determine their own national destiny.

The United Nations will continue to work with the Ministry of Information and the media fraternity in building media capacity further to ensure that an enabling environment exists for more analytical, objective and accurate development news reportage.

Let us work together to re-brand Zimbabwe and make it the best destination — not only for tourists but also for investors — and a regional hub and gateway for Africa.

Bishow Parajuli is the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Zimbabwe