By Nkosana Dlamini
Zimbabwe media editors are divided on whether First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa’s physical social engagements with different women throughout the country constituted public interest issues requiring newspapers to dedicate scarce resources towards covering.
At a Zimbabwe National Editors Forum (Zinef) Kadoma workshop focusing on public interest journalism, editors from the private media felt the First Lady’s office was not provided for in the national constitution, rendering her activities a public financial burden.
The First Lady now traverses the length and breadth of the country, quite often seen joining women is performing petty chores such as cleaning and cooking.
It has never been publicly declared how much she uses for her tours, which are often accompanied by a motorcade.
Reports say President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s wife has hijacked state media vehicles, journalists, photographers while commandeering print and broadcasting space to focus on her activities.
Editors feel the assigning of public resources to cover a non-state actor was a brazen infraction.
Even more irregular is that Vice President Constantino Chiwenga does not have reporters specially assigned to him.
Some felt the current state media coverage on the first lady was lacking in quality as it only featured her voice and not of those she purposes to be empowering.
Zinef coordinator Njabulo Ncube described the First Lady’s office as a “pseudo” public office but left the debate to fellow editors.
A state media editor said there was nothing fundamentally wrong with “serving those in power” with a resource they control.
Some state media editors also argued that the First Lady’s activities were indeed a matter of public interest as she used her profile as the most powerful women in the country to mobile resources through her foundation while highlighting issues around cervical cancer and lack of schools in some poor communities.
Based on what she would have highlighted, they argued, government has been galvanised to remedy the situation.
Zinef chairman and Newshawks editor Dumisani Muleya admitted the First Lady’s activities were a matter of public interest but queried that those covering her were operating like “robots and stenographers” who merely publish without question.
“Our functions and role as journalists, whether you are deployed to the First Lady or the president, is to look for stories that are in the public interest,” he said.
“Most of the stories written about the First Lady, I am sorry to say, are just propaganda stuff and public relations; there is nothing wrong with that except that the public certainly expects much more from that office.
“Those offices are powerful offices which as journalists, we must scrutinise not just promote them.
“So, when somebody else does the promoting, let somebody else scrutinise what else the First Lady is doing.”
Muleya said by dragging journalists along with her, the First Lady’s actions now bordered on abuse.
“This is total abuse of the media, it must be condemned. You cannot come into the newsroom to demand coverage.
“Journalists know what is news and what is not. You do not come make yourself news by demanding that ‘l must have people covering me whether l am doing nothing or not’,” Muleya said.