As society grows more digital each day, this has nudged along the metamorphosis of media. Now, information moves rapidly; it has become the norm for people to live-stream events and a fast and reliable Internet connection is more accessible than ever before.

With all this said, how is Zimbabwean media adapting to these changes? And how has the pandemic affected media outlets and journalists in this country? media update’s Taylor Goodman investigates. 

Journalists on lockdown

An unfortunate reality of the pandemic is that it took a serious swing at the media industry as a whole. Zimbabwe was not immune to its wrath, which stalled any growth the industry could have experienced. 

During this period, many media houses had to halt operations due to lockdown restrictions. This cease in production, coupled with the decline in ad revenue, forced many publications to close their doors, suspend printing and / or lay off employees.

Another challenge Zimbabwean journalists faced during the pandemic was government pressure. 

According to the Independent Press Institute (IPI), more than a dozen Zimbabwean journalists were arrested during the pandemic. 

An example of this was when prominent journalist Hopewell Chin’ono was arrested after uncovering corruption in the government and was charged with ‘incitement to participate in public violence.’

Another similar case was that of Mduduzi Mathuthu, an investigative journalist, who had a warrant issued for his arrest for ‘organising and advocating for illegal demonstrations against the government of Zimbabwe.’

The fight for press freedom is not over

Chin’ono’s arrest and the arrest of other Zimbabwean journalists place a magnifying glass on the bigger issue of the ongoing struggle for press freedom in the nation. 

Although, over the last few years, there was an expansion of the media landscape, many believe that independent media outlets were censored, silencing critical reporting during the pandemic. 

This brings to question why this plurality in Zimbabwean media outlets has not resulted in an equal and diverse range of voices having a platform. And, whether the constriction of independent voices has cultivated a culture of self-censorship in an era where unbiased, informative reporting is critical. 

Despite the adversity they face, these independent media outlets remain committed to authentic reporting

Growth of the Zimbabwean media landscape

Over the last couple of years, the Zimbabwean media industry has significantly expanded. There has been an increase in the number of media outlets, and with that came the passing of what appeared to be more ‘democratic’ media laws. 

Zimbabwe going digital

The transformation of media to something that is more digitised, fast-paced and interactive has influenced the expansion of the country’s landscape.

As many publications were forced to stop press distribution via newsagents during lockdown, this encouraged them to go digital. 

A shining example of this is The Standard, an independent publication. During the midst of the pandemic, it started distributing its paper in a PDF format via email. 

The Standards editor, Kholwani Nyathi explained that this “helped attract new subscribers, who previously didn’t have the access to the physical paper.”

The publication’s work shows the potential within the Zimbabwean media to take things to a new level by taking advantage of the growing digital infrastructure. 

Despite this great potential that lies in the country adopting a digitized approach to media distribution, it is important to acknowledge the limitations of this. 

Easily the biggest challenge of the adoption of digital technologies in Zimbabwe is accessibility. Data Reportal reported that only 33% of Zimbabweans have access to the internet. 

Given the fact that the media plays such a crucial role in making sure African citizens are informed and educated, the nation of Zimbabwe still has ways to go in using digital to its advantage. 

Do you think digitisation has had a positive effect on the media? Why or why not? Be sure to let us know in the comments section below.

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Want to learn more about the media in Africa? Then check out our article, The booming landscape of Namibian radio: A Q&A with Gary Stroebel.
*Image courtesy of Pixabay