Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Youth, Media and Democracy in Zimbabwe

A Presentation to the CORAH Chitungwiza Community  Meeting.
St Mary's,  Chitungwiza. 
5 May 2015, 

By Takura Zhangazha*

Cdes and Colleagues,
I have been asked to come and discuss with you issues to do with the new constitution and the media in this the week that World Press Freedom Day, 03 May occurs. And it is only fitting that I thank Community Radio Harare (CORAH) and the Youth Forum for extending such an invitation for me to share ideas with the young people of Chitungwiza or ‘Chi-town’ as it is referred to by many. Incidentally I also grew up for a while in this town and attended what was and I understand is still called the Early Learning Center.  So I would argue that I owe my initial consciousness of being a Zimbabwean to Chitungwiza, never mind the fact that I was also cast in a nativity play as a ‘donkey’ in the barn.

I refer to consciousness because that is essentially the baseline of our abilities to express ourselves and our own experiences.  It is from individual and shared experiences that we begin to articulate personal and collective views in order to seek progressive change in our societies.  In order to do this, we require both democratic values and the relevant media platforms and technology.

In the case of Zimbabwe, the media exists in both its traditional and newer internet based forms. The mainstream media ideally functions to serve the broad public and democratic interest by reporting on public issues fairly and accurately. The newer social media largely works more to allow individual citizens to express themselves on their own platforms, share information, get entertained and also access information in quicker fashion.  

Some of the views expressed or shared on these platforms are however not necessarily journalistic or in keeping with the professional standards of the mainstream media. 

For young Zimbabweans today this ability to express themselves is obviously much easier and ever faster.  Unlike the way some of us over 35 year-old citizens grew up, the youth of today have various means to not only express their opinion but to receive information via not only the traditional media such as television, radio and newspapers.  They now have the added communications capacity that comes with owning a mobile phone especially one that is referred to as a ‘smart’ one. 

While it may all seem just like technology there is a human rights perspective to this flourishing (and expensive) mobile phone based communication among young Zimbabweans. In terms of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, this right is guaranteed in Section 61 of the Bill of rights which allows everyone the right to express themselves.  Section 62 also strengthens that right in relation to allowing all Zimbabweans the right to access information.  These rights are key to the free and democratic functioning of all media forms (both mainstream and social).

So using your mobile phone is in keeping with your rights as given in the constitution, even if the constitution never really comes to your doorstep.  And this is a point that we must never lose sight of because however much we entertain ourselves via the mainstream or new media, we have to understand the seriousness of the rights that underpin it. This will help us not only defend such rights but also actively promote awareness of the same. 

This brings me to a key consideration that young people must make about the media and its attendant technologies. 

There is need to increasingly respect the voice of young people on issues that affect them and their own views of Zimbabwean society.  The mainstream media has generally paid scant attention to the thoughts of young people on key issues.  Not because of a lack of trying but more because young peoples voices are rarely allowed to flourish in our paternalistic political culture as it currently obtains.  Stories of young people are covered in the mainstream media tend to be largely related to entertainment and education.  And such coverage is rarely frequent or in-depth. 

The options that are therefore available to young Zimbabweans are that they pursue better editorial policies in mainstream media with regards to how their issues are covered. 

But perhaps more importantly, there must be a concerted effort to work at establishing organic social media platforms that talk and relate to the everyday concerns of the youth.  And this must be done largely by young people themselves.  These social media platforms, some of which already exist, should however not limit themselves to entertainment but also be primed to raise consciousness and action over and about the rights of the youth to employment, education, health, transport and a clean environment. 

Such action would lead to not only the media and its attendant technology being an important part of the everyday lives of young Zimbabweans but also give them an ability to express their views on matters that other demographic groups tend to want to monopolise. 

To conclude, let me cite the fastest growing use of social media by the youth.  And this is in relation to entertainment.  I occasionally listen to ‘urban groves’/ ‘dancehall’ and watch the videos that are posted via whatsapp and YouTube. I always try to measure the consciousness and opinions raised in either the songs or the choreography of the videos.  It turns out, most of them are about love or turf wars between popular singers.  What I have however come to conclude is that while this level of consciousness among the youth may be fun and entertaining, it is however not enough to raise the voices and concerns of young people via  increasingly popular social media and mobile internet. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)