|Online newspapers losing relevance|
|Wednesday, 27 June 2012 12:28|
WHEN the once popular Daily News closed its doors after its failed legal challenge against AIPPA in August 2003, some redundant journalists sought opportunities outside the country and some of them found the Internet to be an ideal medium for information dissemination.
Within a year, new online newspapers published by Zimbabweans but operating outside the country emerged. Zimbabwean journalists used technology to inform readers and escape local press regulation. Since they published online, Zimbabwean laws did not bind them.
Current media laws do not cover online publications, though the Government previously attempted to introduce legal measures seeking to monitor and regulate Internet content. In 2006, the Interception of Communications Bill was presented to Parliament but was eventually passed in 2008, minus the statutes that aimed at regulating Internet content.
The new newspapers took advantage of Zimbabwe’s online population, which had started to swell. According to statistics, Zimbabwe had six Internet service providers and 30,000 users as of December 1999 and the number rose sharply to 48 000 by the end of the year 2000.
A 2005 United Nations report asserted that at the time, ten percent of Zimbabwe’s fourteen million people had access to the Internet. Because of the low cost associated with accessing online content, a good number of the online users are thought to be frequent visitors to Zimbabwe online newspapers’ websites.
Most members of an estimated population of between one million and five million Zimbabweans now living outside the country have also become frequent visitors to these online newspaper sites.
The original idea of serving online users was a noble one, particularly because of the vacuum that was created by the absence of private daily newspapers. Their sharp anti-government stance attracted readers seeking a different point of view from what was available at the time. The online newspapers supposedly secured sponsorship from the West where they are based, a place where many would be happy to fund anything with even the smallest chance of dislodging a Robert Mugabe-headed government.
But things do not look as cosy for the online newspapers as they did in the mid-2000s. Some like zimdaily.com and zimonline.co.za are not being uploaded as frequently as before. The main editorial cartoon on the zimonline website is almost two years old and the top story on the zimdaily site is several months old.
It may well be coincidence but since the establishment of a new privately-owned newspaper and the re-introduction of the Daily News, the online sites have been carrying stories ‘borrowed’ from elsewhere.
Every Saturday, nehandaradio.com ‘borrows’ the Herald’s main soccer preview, complete with the byline and graphic or picture and posts it on their site without even bothering to acknowledge the source.
This gives the mistaken impression that Augustine Hwata, Grace Chingoma, Edison Chikamhi or whoever would have written the story actually works for Nehanda Radio.
It is not known if the perpetrators are simply ignorant of copyright laws or they arrogantly feel they can get away with it, since they are publishing from unknown locations outside the country.
What is clear though is that the online newspapers do not have the capacity to run daily news sites. It is now very plausible for one to find exactly the same content on a news site for consecutive weeks.
All they do in most instances is to rewrite pieces of information taken from the mainstream traditional media and claim ownership under some pseudonym.
They appear to have no resources to source their own news, save for hired double agents dotted in Zimbabwean newsrooms that earn an extra buck by stealing photographs and information from their official employers and write a slightly different version of known news.
The cardinal instruction from the bosses abroad appears to be, ‘anything that makes Mugabe look brutal, silly and unhealthy is gold’.
But then again, the local traditional media is better at speculating while ignoring reasoned opinion. They can write that Mugabe is on his deathbed solely based on the fact that they have not seen him around for a while.
They can also write that the same man faces the end of his political career because some rules that have not been implemented yet are “likely” to be in place by the time Zimbabwe holds elections at a date yet to be announced.
With such completion from people with both human and financial resources and based locally, the online newspapers are understandably becoming less essential.
The Zimbabwe online newspapers are looking less like a place for readers to find credible, relevant and topical news. Rather, the news sites appear more and more like simple sources of income for the ‘courageous democrats’ seeking funding by siding with their potential and existing anti-Mugabe sponsors.
Robert Mugabe is without doubt a meal ticket.