Govt Keeping Covid-19 Data Away From Media – Research

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By Leopold Munhende

ZIMBABWEAN journalists have accused government of being too secretive with crucial information on Covid-19 in the country.

This is contained in a report by the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ) following some research on the situation.

The research by Dr. Lyton Ncube of Midlands State University (MSU) and journalist Mlondolozi Ndlovu explored experiences of media practitioners during the pandemic in accessing information, effectiveness of government communication and implications of its Statutory Instruments.

Journalists said government was not eager to share details and evaded crucial questions at times by continuously referring journalists to several offices.

“Majority of the respondents blamed government for being secretive with crucial information pertaining to the Covid-19 pandemic,” reads the research in part.

“They also blamed government for applying a cut and paste-information dissemination policy which has left journalists and citizens partially ignorant on pertinent issues about respiratory pandemic.”

263Chat editor Thomas Madhuku said key sources of information within the health ministry would not entertain questions, thereby leaving ‘information gaps’ that needed to be filled.

“There was always limited information and government officials were not eager to explain in detail,” said Madhuku.

“At one of the press conferences addressed by then permanent secretary in the Health Ministry Dr. Agnes Mahomva, she just read out her statement and refused to take questions despite glaring information gaps that needed clarification.”

Marshall Bwanya, a reporter with ZimLive said at one point, Mahomva refused to give him information claiming she did not know him.

“They avoided providing Covid-19 information by referring me to several people they claimed had the information,” said Bwanya.

“The Chief Coordinator on Covid-19 Mahomva declined to provide information because she did not know me.

“Government agencies are very secretive if you are a journalist from privately owned media.”

Government centralised Covid-19 data and information dissemination leaving the Health Ministry with the sole responsibility to do so.

That, however, raised questions on the authenticity of figures being shared by the ministry according to NewsDay editor Wisdom Mdzungairi.

“Covid-19 figures are being announced through the formal processes, but the thinking is that these are being doctored,” said Mdzungairi.

“The government has kept a tight leash on information, making it harder for independent journalists to access information.

“Investigative journalism is made harder because the government has put in place regulations that information must come from one source, information from sources other than government can be deemed as fake news, which carries a 20-year jail term.

“Arresting of journalists is meant to instil fear and rein in other independent journalists into submission.”