By Leopold Munhende
FORMER Herald Editor, Tichaona Zindoga has opened up on his tough experience when he was at the helm of the state controlled daily where he claims First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa constantly interfered with his job.
He described the experience as as “uncomfortable, traumatic and bad”.
Zindoga was dismissed under unclear circumstances 2019 after occupying the hottest media seat for just 10 months.
Speaking on SABC’s Media Monitors programme Sunday, Zindoga said he had little power to determine his paper’s layout as directives often came from “an attention seeking” First Lady Auxlilia Mnangagwa and some other meddlesome top government officials.
His predecessor, Joram Nyathi had been fired for failing to publish a story on President Emmerson Mnangagwa on the paper’s front page.
Zindoga spoke about how journalists at the country’s oldest media group are “conditioned” to only write and publish what the First Family believes in.
He told host Peter Ndoro, a majority of his colleagues at The Herald were in fact “closet” supporters of the main opposition MDC but were forced to write articles that portrayed positive images of government just to be able to keep their jobs.
“It is almost a straitjacket working within an institution like this; you are conditioned and when you get in there, you know what you are supposed to do within the apparatus of the government,” said Zindoga, who is now Head of Content at Review and Mail.
“Having knowledge that this is state media, as an editor or journalist, you have to know that the majority of your job is to support the government of the day.
“I know a lot of colleagues within the establishment who were closet supporters of the opposition, quite a majority of them but they would write stories that will all the same please the government because they want to feed themselves and their families.
“As editors too, we know that there are certain things that we might not agree with but had little choice in terms of determination as to whether that goes in or out.”
Zindoga laid into the First Lady whom he said often demanded space in The Herald and on state broadcaster ZBC-TV, with one risking a backlash if they failed to comply.
He added: “Sometimes your job depends on putting the President on page one. Now we have a very attention-seeking First Lady, Auxillia; she demands space in that newspaper and she makes hell out of somebody whether on the broadcasting or newspaper side that does not afford her space.
“During my time as Acting Editor, I would put her stories on Page 7 which she probably deserved if anything at all but I was dragged over hot coals for that and we then had a determination that she will be on Page 2 or possibly Page 1 and even if you look at it right now, it is almost a template that she is on Page 2 and her stories are not even combined.
“She might do certain events on a single day but she would insist through her PAs, through her lackeys and within our media, she would insist these stories need to be separate, they need to carry certain pictures that she chooses.
“You do not have the latitude to choose the picture of the First Lady because her people actually choose those pictures for you.
“I understand that even journalists that she takes on her tours have to first send the copy to her before they send it to us as editors.
“During my time, they exerted a lot of pressure on us, that ‘Amai’, that is ‘Mother of the Nation, they had to call her that, ‘Amai wants this and that, this story treated this way.’
“You know it is very uncomfortable, it is very bad, it is traumatic for editors.
“You will see that I have come clean on this to report some of the things that I faced at her hands, being dragged over hot coals because of editorial decisions that I would have taken.
“We know that this is a propaganda machine, we know people need to know what the First Lady of the republic does sometimes but at the same time your conscience and also the professional handling will tell you we cannot have three stories of the same person in one edition; why not compact them but you know it is something that was difficult.”
There have been calls by media practitioners to set up of a buffer between the state and publicly owned media platforms such as those under Zimpapers and broadcaster, ZBC in the mould of questionable but recently constituted Zimbabwe Mass Media Trust (ZMMT).
In 2019, Presidential Spokesperson George Charamba confessed to publishing for The Herald under a shadowy character, Nathaniel Manheru while the Information Ministry has, since the days of Professor Jonathan Moyo, been accused of taking a hands-on approach to determining what is published across state owned papers and broadcasters.