By Uyapo Majahana

Private media plays a critical role in democracy by complementing public media to ensure the tenacity of the ‘Forth Estate’ that fulfills its watchdog mandate.

While public media is usually castigated for turning a blind eye to public service delivery issues that paint ruling governments in a negative light, private media usually steps in to reach the dark crevices of public interest.

In Zimbabwe, the Centre for Innovation and Technology (CITE), is one such private journalism and media enterprise whose vision is to be a leading digital technology centre and innovation hub for citizen participation.

The #PromiseTracker, the #RateMyCouncilllor, and the #FixMyCity platforms are some of CITE’s popular innovative initiatives that exemplify the media’s role in promoting accountability in governance.

Abigirl Khuphe, the programme manager for CITE, said these platforms enable citizens to monitor the performance of their local and national governments on issues that matter to them and have been effective in raising awareness among Zimbabwean citizens on promises made by those in authority.

“The government and elected officials have made numerous promises to deliver governance and services to citizens, but have taken few steps to demonstrate commitment to accountability, justice for human rights abuses, and respect for the rule of law. The promise tracker is a platform where we track these promises and commitments nationally, exposing responsible authorities where they are lacking. The tracker assesses if the government adheres to all of its promises in regard to service delivery, education, health, infrastructure, transparency, human rights, law and order, minority rights and many other issues,” she said.

Some of the latest promises that were being tracked include that of Professor Mthuli Ncube who promised to provide free WiFi services to Cowdray Park residents in Bulawayo. This promise was marked “Unstarted” at the time of publishing.

Another promise stated by President Emmerson Mnangagwa labelled “Mnangagwa commits to modern, affordable housing for all” is marked “In progress”.

But because this crucial journalism mandate cannot be fulfilled solely by one organisation, CITE has also taken it upon itself to spread democratic ideals of the media to community radio journalists and media start-up organisations through training and mentorship programmes.

For the training of community radio stations, CITE targeted Matabeleland-based radio stations, a region that is more often than not disenfranchised from the public media discourse.

In selecting the media start-ups for the year-long mentorship programme, which is drawn from all the provinces, Khuphe said CITE looked at the originality of the startups’ ideas.

They also assessed whether their ideas solve community problems, or how applicable their concepts were in light of their contexts, their financial viability and whether or not their ideas could be replicated on a larger scale.

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The training for the mobile journalism programme with community journalists was largely practical as the participants produced news content suitable for TikTok topics. Other topics included the TikTok landscape in Zimbabwe and the importance of TikTok and its relevance.

Khuphe said the importance of these training and mentorship programmes cannot be downplayed in the development of journalism practice and democratic precepts.

“Community radio stations play a critical role in promoting local journalism and democratic values, particularly in rural or marginalised communities where access to traditional news media may be limited. But social media platforms like TikTok have become popular among younger generations and have since been an opportunity for journalists and citizens to share news and information with this young demographic. This is why we capacitated community radio stations with the skills to effectively use the platform to grow their audiences and cover local issues affecting them.

“Mentoring the media start-up personnel is also important because it promotes innovation, diversity and quality in the media industry. By providing the support and guidance needed to succeed, we believe we are helping create a more vibrant and democratic media landscape. Media startups often lack the resources and experience needed to thrive, so the mentorship also included various aspects like business planning, social media management, content production and other areas essential to running a successful media enterprise,” she said.

Nyasha Dube, a journalist from Women’s Weekly Journal who participated and benefited from both programmes at an individual level and also from her organisation’s standpoint, expressed her gratitude for CITE’s ventures.

“The experience has been great and I feel like I have been growing and learning new things as a journalist in the digital era since the inception of these programmes. I benefited from the tutorials on mobile journalism, content creation, and producing good community-based stories. My strength has always been in writing but I have recently been taking an interest in video and podcast production which I believe is more appealing to audiences than written text. As an organisation, our content has also seen tangible improvements as some of our stories have since been published by more established publications like CITE, thereby giving us exposure,” she said.

Women’s Weekly Journal, along with nine other media start-up ventures like Masvingo Media Centre, Village Studio from Mashonaland Central, Pikicha Media from Manicaland, the NewsReport Live from Harare, and Ekhaya Media from Bulawayo were all capacitated with iPhones to use for their mobile journalism and digital storytelling.

Vuyisile Dube, a radio presenter at Nust FM, a community radio station that caters to audiences in and around the university’s campus and surrounding areas also said he was excited at the opportunity to improve his knowledge in digital journalism through mobile journalism and podcasting programme, which was hosted in conjunction with DW Akademie.

“My biggest takeaway was that there are multiple untapped audiences and topics besides the traditional ones we are used to covering as a relatively conservative nation. I learned that this can be accomplished using TikTok and podcasting platforms to express yourself and the interests of audiences. I really liked the skits that we did when creating TikTok content for our various stations.

“Before the training project, my colleagues and I were not particularly concerned with making TikTok content for the station but now we are also venturing into individual podcasts to tackle journalistic and social issues, also utilising techniques like TikTok storyboarding,” he said.

Since the programmes, some participant organisations have gone on to create TikTok accounts for their organisations, and others have already started sharing news content through the platform.

Cephas Ndlovu from Twasumpuka Community Radio Station in Binga said CITE’s programmes “would come in handy in their coverage of health issues which are topical in their community, but they were still facing some problems due to poor network connectivity.”

CITE’s mobile and digital journalism development programmes come at a time when the hypnotic app has taken the world by storm. The news creation and sharing industry has not been spared either as they are also utilising the app’s perversity.

TikTok holds nearly 32% of the social media market in Nigeria and has doubled its users in South Africa to about 10-million.

Globally, TikTok has emerged as the most downloaded app in 2020, 2021 and 2022 consecutively.

It, therefore, remains to be seen whether ease of internet access will be guaranteed more, not only to Zimbabwean citizens but also to wider African populations considering how social media can and is increasingly taking up space in democratic processes.

Reporting supported by a micro-grant from Jamlab


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