By Uyapo Majahana

At a time when misinformation and disinformation are prevalent, journalists and other media practitioners must stay abreast of the latest discourses and topical information prevalent in their communities.

Work done by organisations such as the Sunshine Cinema, a non-profit media organisation nurturing active citizenship by training young people in film, photography and audience facilitation deserves a special mention in the annals of African journalism advancement.

They equip their trained ambassadors with tools to host free solar cinema screenings of African films, where they mobilise communities to spark conversations on various issues like mental health and renewable energy sources, sexual health, misinformation and disinformation, and electoral processes among others.

The organisation also runs a podcast series where they talk to journalists, community leaders, filmmakers, and civil society groups about current affairs.

The organisation is operational in four southern African countries including South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Sydelle Willow Smith, the co-founder of Sunshine Cinema, said their programme in Zimbabwe aims to engage journalists and develop the media space in the Matabeleland regions of Zimbabwe.

“The main focus for us in trying to reach journalists with misinformation, disinformation and fake news content is to ensure that fact-checking, correct reporting and ethical standards are being adhered to and that things are not creeping through the cracks. We offer training and knowledge exchange opportunities for younger storytellers. That has been the crux of the work we have been doing in the country since 2019. This project is a development from original work that we started with Internews, under the Zimbabwe Media Development Programme,” she said.

Pretty Nxumalo, Sunshine Cinema Zimbabwe programme manager, said they have been targeting journalists because they are experts and at the epicenter in the field of news and information gathering and dissemination and can therefore provide valuable insight and practical advice to their listeners. She said as trusted sources of information, journalists are in a unique position to counteract misinformation and disinformation and offer a well-rounded perspective on the complex issues around misinformation and disinformation.

“For our podcast series, our Sunbox ambassadors talk to journalists and community members who participate in our screenings as well as representatives of civil society organisations that we usually partner with. Some journalists have extensive training in fact-checking and verifying sources and presenting accurate information to the public, so interviewing them about how they handle misinformation and disinformation provides valuable insights into how they approach their work and how they verify the information before publishing it.

“Journalists also share experiences about dealing with misinformation and disinformation, and offer some of the tips that they use that can be useful to our listeners. We have also noticed that journalists give unique perspectives on the role of media and its effort in combating misinformation and disinformation,” she said.

Nxumalo said Sunshine Cinema has been engaging journalists in its programmes also because of their critical role in ensuring that accurate and reliable information is shared with the public, especially at this time when Zimbabwe is preparing for its 2023 elections in August.

In this digital era, social media has given false information wings to spreads rapidly, and now journalists cannot easily keep up to ensure that accurate information drowns out the fake news in circulation.

Want to stay up to date with the latest journalism and media innovation news from the African continent? Subscribe to our newsletter.

The gendered perspective of misinformation and disinformation

One of the films that the organisation screens is a documentary titled Searching for Truth in the Age of Misinformation and Disinformation produced by Connecticut Public TV. It spotlights the importance of media literacy by exploring how and why misinformation spreads as well as how to be a smarter information consumer in the digital era.

The film was recently screened to female journalism students to spark a conversation on gendered misinformation and its impact on female politicians and also to discuss the role of journalists in the coverage of elections.

Nxumalo also said student journalists, mostly from the National University of Science and Technology, are the future of journalism so they should be involved in misinformation and disinformation awareness as they will in future play a critical role in shaping the media landscape.

Sibusisiwe Bhebhe, editing director at Amakhosikazi Media, another partner organisation that was involved in the programme, said they focused on female journalists after the realisation that senior female journalists who are already working in established newsrooms are under house rules and editorial policies of their institutions so it is harder to change the way in which they write. She said this is the reason why they frequently engage freelance journalists and content creators as most in this space are raw talent that should be harnessed for the development and implementation of media concepts that might ruffle the feathers of well-established media enterprises.

“We want to catch them young, still as fresh students so that even as they transcend into the real world, they are not caught unaware of the far-reaching disenfranchisement consequences that misinformation and disinformation have on the decision-making process of women in critical issues like politics. Female journalists themselves sometimes face online harassment and cyberbullying but they tend to shy away from making themselves examples of negativity in their writing. In the political arena, disinformation and misinformation usually misalign female politicians through frequent malicious labeling as home-wreckers, immoral or sexual deviants instead of focusing on the serious work that they do,” she said.

Siphathisiwe Ncube, a community journalist and one of the Sunshine Cinema ambassadors, said the importance of engaging journalists in programmes that address this subject cannot be overstated.

“The spread of fake news can divide the community therefore journalists as they report should bare it in mind that they should report facts so that they help the community make informed decisions. To that end, journalists should have regular round table meetings with the community members, key community stakeholders and representatives from different organisations or political parties to establish community rapport,” she said.

A participant in one of the workshops conducted by the organisation, Prosperity Sikhosana, said she came out with a wealth of knowledge about information disorders.

“We learned about the power that women have and that they also can be leaders in the media and political spaces on equal footing as men. I also learned that as female journalists we should stop asking female leaders questions about how they handle or cope with family and work. Instead, we should consider questions that probe their political or business tenacity. I believe it is up to us as female journalists to spread positivity and give women a chance to shine just like men.

Nhezipho Hlaba, another participant, said her overall experience of the workshop was very enjoyable. She said her highlight was being in the presence of women that are in the journalism and media space and are taking information matters so seriously and are willing to impart what they know to other younger and upcoming female journalists.

“I am grateful for this awareness programme as my reporting skills have been enhanced. I will forever be mindful not to represent women in gender-stereotypical frames.”

In the process of the work of this media enterprise, unemployment is curbed. Considering that all this commendable work is achieved with solar energy being the main pillar of the screenings, at a time when efforts to push for just energy transition are encouraged in the wake of the climate change crisis, this organisation deserves another generous pat on the shoulder.

Reporting supported by a micro-grant from Jamlab


Community Podium: A bright spark of media excellence in rural Zimbabwe

Community media re-imagined with Hillbrow Radio

CITE making strides in the development of journalism in Zimbabwe



Everything you need to know regarding journalism and media innovation in Africa – fortnightly in your inbox.