For justice’s sake, we must speak

I have always maintained that there is nothing as powerful as the ability to speak up.

To keep silent when something is terribly wrong is to be complicit in the perpetuation of that wrong.

And while many people often think that speaking up changes nothing, I for one have learned that the greatest thing about speaking up is that it changes you, if nothing else.

It changes you because it teaches you courage, it teaches you to walk outside the castle of your fear and venture onto the other side of the shores of public opinion.

There is nothing that riles me more than injustice in its myriad manifestations and regardless of who it is directed at – I simply cannot stomach it.

Which explains why I have failed to shake off this slimy feeling of revulsion and a sense of a violation I can only equate to having someone smear excrement all over my face.

Honestly, I really cannot stand it.

I was very profoundly affected by the NewsDay story titled Tinopona Katsande reveals infertility that was written by one Silence Charumbira and sourced from her Facebook profile where she revealed that she was suffering from a health condition that has rendered her infertile.

The revelation was very deeply personal and I have no doubt that she made that revelation after much reflection and at great personal cost because the more prominent a person is in society – the more scrutiny they become subjected to.

I don’t take issue with the fact that the story was sourced from Facebook, I believe that when something is in the public domain – online or offline – it should be fair game for journalists.

What upset me is the manner in which the story was written without an attempt at objectivity, balance or even a pretense at being fair in the portrayal of Katsande. no harm! no harm!

What upset me even more is the apparent lack of remorse, repentance or empathy on the part of those who defended this story.

Fortunately, through her article titled An Open Letter To Zimbabwe’s Media one of my dear friends have called them out on this so I won’t have to harp on about it.

The portrayal of women in Zimbabwean media has always been of grave concern to me and I have argued that wherever women are subjects in a story they are either victims or they are social/sexual deviants; Charumbira’s article sadly proves me right.

In Charumbira’s article, Katsande is framed as a victim by being introduced to the reader as the “battered television and radio personality” and in the very next paragraph, the issue of her “controversial sex-tape” is made mention of thus framing her as a deviant and opening her up to judgment even before the facts of the story at hand have been presented.

Admittedly, the rest of the article gives a faithful rendition of Katsande’s post but this does little to mitigate the harm done by the initial introduction of Katsande to Charumbira’s audience – here is a battered woman, who (lest you forget) made a sex tape and is now confirmed to be barren – the stigmatizing narrative is thus gleefully (almost maliciously) served up to an audience that laps it up and reacts with the judgmental, holier-than-thou, self-righteous and indignant vitriol that the framing of the story elicits.

To defend such a story (especially when you have read the comments and are aware of the unintended consequences it has visited on an individual whose stated intent was to raise awareness on a very serious health issue) you would have to be incredibly obtuse, breathtakingly misogynistic and completely impervious to common sense.

Journalism is powerful.

To be able to write of other people and expose the intimate, personal, private and sometimes shameful details about their lives is to possess incredible power – it is to play God.

May we never get so drunk with that heady sense of power that we become journalists whose purpose is to inflict harm, demean the dignity of others and wreck lives for no other reason than that we have the power to do so.

That is unjust and to some of us who believe in social justice that is unacceptable.

So for justice’s sake, we will speak up because no one’s social status insulates them from pain or victimization.

For justice’s sake – let us refuse to be the ones who allowed a grievous wrong to go unchallenged.


3 thoughts on “For justice’s sake, we must speak

  1. Trust says:

    I am going to stick my neck out here and offer my two cents. Your article is brilliant and so is the one written by your colleague, Fungai. It seems surprising to me however that as journalists you appear shocked by unfolding events regarding the stories written about this lady, Tino. I don’t know, perhaps I have been de-sensitised to journalistic sensationalism by living in the diaspora where democracy and freedom of the press is prevalent. I’m not sure what the journalistic term for it is, but does not every article written have to provide some historical background and facts surrounding the subject matter? Why do you feel this article should be exempt? As journalists, you should also know that you cannot assume anything. You would be surprised to find that some folk in Zim have no idea about events surrounding Tino’s life and by adding this infor, not only is the story brought to life, but, as much as you may not want to hear this, it increases readership for said journalists future articles as well as the paper for whom he writes. From the many articles I have read, it appears to me journalists are taught the art of sensationalism provided what they write about is grounded in facts, which seems to be the case here with Tino.

    I would suggest Tino will live to regret her ‘negative’ experiences, but in the case of her medical condition, it might turn out to be a positive experience for her, as through such an exposé, other women going through a similar experience might be encouraged. Tino owns the power to turn all this into something positive. She must not relinquish her power to a journalist or anyone else for that matter.

    • itsdelta says:

      Thanks for engaging with this issue Trust. I do agree that stories can and should provide historical background and facts but my concern is that in the case of this story, the background and facts have been used as a narrative frame i.e the ‘background’ is actually used as a ‘foreground’ hence the prominent placement of these ‘historical’ facts at the very beginning of the article (opening sentence in fact) – everything subsequent to the opening paragraphs is therefore read through a skewed lens of prejudice. This observation relates to the specific Katsande story.

      My blog post references this particular NewsDay article but my issue really is with the broader portrayal of women in Zimbabwean media and how our reluctance to challenge these portrayals further entrenches these misogynistic journalistic tendencies which (in a largely patriarchal society and not a democracy-oriented one) legitimizes the victimization of women in innocuous ways. The ability to promote a culture of gender sensitive reporting begins with creating a culture of identifying instances of harmful reporting which includes lack of balance, objectivity or fairness in the presentation of facts. It is not what you say (i.e stating a fact) but it is equally why you say it (i.e your motive and intent) as well as how you say it (i.e how you present/frame said facts) because through the systematic choice of words and images, media can expose their audiences to specific dispositions of how to feel, think, react or respond to an issue.

      I do agree with you entirely that “Tino owns the power to turn all this into something positive. She must not relinquish her power to a journalist or anyone else for that matter.” and I think in her Facebook post she did not present herself as a victim nor seek anyone to view her with pity; she merely stated a condition she has and even stated her motive for sharing the same BUT the story around that very same FB post resulted in a vicious backlash precisely because the writer chose to frame it in a specific way by giving prominence to the negatives in Katsande’s life as if those negatives were relevant to the facts of the story he was purporting to focus on.

      I agree that freedom of the press should mean that journalists are not muzzled and should write stories as they see fit as long as said stories are factual BUT freedom comes with responsibility and it is irresponsible to frame a story in a way that exposes the subject to abuse – particularly if the writer is aware of how the intended audience is likely to react (ie in a patriarchal society you kinda have an idea of how people will respond to certain issues, topics, behaviors and all that).

      Journalism is not a weapon for inflicting harm and if it is, it shouldn’t be.

  2. My feeling as well was that while it is mandatory to include background in our stories when we write, background should be background. The issue being argued about was not treated as background. It became the News. It was given prominence over what was important. It is a good thing that Newsday has apologised. People by their very nature are not perfect. Its so unfortunate that public figures become more imperfect because well they are ‘public’. People should learn to be forgiving. A person is not defined by the ‘wrong’ they might have done. And wrong in quotes because Tino did nothing out of the ordinary. It was the ordinary that should be private that became public-unforunately. No doubt our public figures should behave responsibly. But sometimes the benchmark we use to measure morality is questionable. We should en devour to be rationale in the way we castigate what we deem to be wrong. Extremism reduces the value of our reprimanding or so to say.

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