(This letter to journalist, Basildon Peta, was first published in The Saturday Star newspaper, Johannesburg on December 27, 2008)
Dear Basildon Peta:
Your article on the front page of the Saturday Star, entitled “Zuma’s daughter to marry Zim opposition politician”, goes beyond reporting the fact of the marriage and ventures into political commentary. There is nothing wrong with this per se. However, as I’ll demonstrate below, your comments transgress basic journalistic standards.
For example, you write: “The [Arthur] Mutambara faction, which holds the balance of power in parliament, has come out in strong support of a defective power-sharing deal brokered by Thabo Mbeki.”
You continue to write: “[Welshman] Ncube is also seen as a close friend of Mbeki – who has huge contempt for [Morgan] Tsvangirai and is known to have privately confided to colleagues that he wished Ncube was the main opposition leader in Zimbabwe.”
I would like to start by expressing my utmost respect for your right to hold whatever opinions you hold about the power-sharing agreement facilitated by former president Thabo Mbeki.
Your article does not, however, explain to your readers how the power-sharing agreement is “defective”. It is stated as a matter of fact which we must believe because you say so.
Furthermore, no evidence is marshalled to substantiate the extremely outrageous claim that former president Mbeki harbours “huge contempt for Tsvangirai”. In keeping with his profession’s mission to tell the truth, should a journalist not provide some proof, however minimal, of a charge as serious as you level against former president Mbeki – a person charged with the responsibility of facilitating Zimbabwe’s political dialogue?
Neither do you provide any fact to back the claim that former president Mbeki has “privately confided to colleagues that he wished Ncube was the main opposition leader in Zimbabwe”. Which colleagues are these to whom Mbeki confided?
This is to say nothing of the premise from which you build your unsubstantiated claims and derogatory allegations, i.e. the suggestion that “Ncube is also seen as a close friend of Mbeki”. Seen by whom? At the risk of sounding rhetorical, one must again ask: should a journalist in search of the truth and reporting the truth not seek to find out? And why, Basildon, do you present friendship with Mbeki as though it is in principle undesirable; something in the order of a criminal offence?
Is it because he pursues what you describe as a “softly-softly approach towards Zimbabwe”, whatever this phrase may mean? I pose these questions because these appear to be the subtle innuendos contained in your story.
It is of course not my place to comment on the logically suspect statement that “Ncube has faced stern criticism in the media, which perceives him as being pro-Robert Mugabe because of his enmity with Tsvangirai”.
Nevertheless, attentive readers know that in most instances, news reports about the political dialogue in Zimbabwe are about events interspersed by quotations about who said this or the other. Seldom do journalists analyse the substance of what is said and its wisdom or otherwise relative to the polarised nature of Zimbabwean society. From my inferior vantage point, I see this as part of journalism’s tragedy.
With all humility, I would like to suggest that you consider reading Nick Davies’ recently published book: Flat Earth News.
He defines Flat Earth News as the phenomenon in which “A story appears to be true. It is widely accepted as true. It becomes a heresy to suggest that it is not true – even if it is riddled with falsehood, distortion and propaganda.”
Wishing you a happy New Year.
– Mukoni Ratshitanga
lRatshitanga is spokesperson for Mbeki.