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When Advertising and Journalistic Integrity Collide, Advertising Usually Wins

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When Advertising and Journalistic Integrity Collide, Advertising Usually Wins
(Evidence Chenjerai/Global Press Journal)

MUTARE, ZIMBABWE — For eight years, in an otherwise tumultuous career as a reporter in eastern Zimbabwe, one thing has been a constant for Paul: covering a decades-old competitive interschool tournament that has catapulted young Zimbabwean footballers onto the world stage. He’d travel across the country, reporting from each match for the daily that employed him at the time. One year, he stumbled across a scoop.

“It was a damaging story about a subsidiary of” the tournament sponsor, he says. “But when I presented the story to my editor, I was told straight up that it won’t be published because the publication would lose advertising revenue.” During the tournament, the sponsor, a carbonated beverage behemoth, ran daily full-page advertisements.

Paul — who, fearing reprisal, asked to be identified by only his first name — says this is when he stopped pursuing ambitious investigations.

“Now, when I come across sensitive stories involving big advertising companies, I forgo them,” he says. “It’s a waste of my time as such stories are bound to not be published.”

These days, Paul works as a freelancer and is paid per story published. In a good month, he can make up to $250. This affects the topics he chooses to cover, as well as the tenor in which he covers them. “At the end of the day, I need to fend for my family,” he says, adding that “writing ethical, balanced and well-researched stories, and hoping to be employed in a newsroom, is now a far-fetched dream.”

Although levels of violence against media workers have declined significantly since the ouster of former President Robert Mugabe — as have cases of journalists being imprisoned and prosecuted — they remain, according to international press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders, “alarmingly high and self-censorship is routinely practiced to avoid reprisals.”

“Censorship can take many forms. Media capture is the nemesis of media freedom,” says Tawanda Majoni, director of Information for Development Trust, a nonprofit that supports investigative journalism in the country. “Advertisers are among the worst captors.”

Advertising is the main business model across Zimbabwean media, according to a 2020 study by Media Monitors, a local think tank. In the country’s three main daily newspapers — The Herald, the DailyNews and NewsDay — a significant portion of content is allotted to advertising, according to circulation figures. More than 60% of the DailyNews, which has a readership of nearly 1 million across the country, is dedicated to ads.

“Advertising tremendously influences the sustainability of media operations,” says Farisai Chaniwa, acting director at Media Monitors. “This creates an ethical dilemma: When journalists must hold advertisers accountable, do they publish the story and risk losing the advertiser, or do they spike the story and retain their main source of funding? Sadly, in most cases, the latter choice prevails.”

Freelance reporter Mandy Kanyemba has experienced this firsthand. “I have written stories that I thought were award-winning investigative pieces only to be told that the story does not meet the publication standards,” she says. Once she wrote an exposé of a mining company that was dumping effluents into the main water source of a village, but the paper she typically published with — and with whom the company regularly advertised — killed the story, she says. She then sent it to another publication. Having no ties with the advertiser, it ran the piece.

“This is the political economy of the media,” says Njabulo Ncube, national coordinator at the Zimbabwe National Editors Forum. “He who pays the piper chooses the tune.”

Source: https://globalpressjournal.com/africa/zimbabwe/advertising-journalistic-integrity-collide-advertising-usually-wins/

 

 

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