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… but not silenced

THE NewsHawks, which delayed publication this week due to circumstances beyond its control, will not publish follow-up stories on the issue of three senior Zimbabwean army generals forced out due to corruption after subtle threats and brazen direct pressure from state security agents, particularly military intelligence operatives.

The NewsHawks journalists have now been put under surveillance, especially editor Dumisani Muleya and news editor Gagare, in a move which has a chilling effect on media freedom and journalism practice.

 Impeccable information shows that military intelligence operations have made enquiries about the journalist who wrote the story, Gagare, and Muleya who cleared it for publication as editor.

Specifically, army operatives want profiles or background information about the journalists and where they were getting details of their corruption story from. In other words, the bottom line is: They want to know where the story came from and also to stop if from going ahead for “political and security reasons”.

A journalist’s first commitment to the job is to protect sources. No journalist worth his salt reveals sources. The role of sources in journalism cannot be overemphasised. They are critical, particularly in investigative journalism.

 Sources give reporters facts, information, insights, perspectives and narratives for stories. Their input is invaluable.

Sources are the backbone of investigative reporting. They are the gateway to facts, background and context of stories, as well as verification, which is central to investigative reporting. Since last week, the military has held several meetings to deal with the exclusive coverage of the story by The NewsHawks.

It ended up issuing a statement, saying the matter is now under investigation, while it is sub judice (suggesting a court martial process is underway, thus indicating the gravity of the matter).

 After publication of the story last week, the army called Garare, indicating they will issue a statement. Subsequent statement came and was useful to explain the situation.

The NewsHawks reported the statement accurately. In all this, the army was profesional.

However, after that The NewsHawks was informed by top Defence House impeccable sources that the issue had raised serious concerns within the army, hence secret manoeuvres are now underway to find the sources of the information.

 President Emmerson Mnangagwa is said to have briefed his delegation last week during his visit to the world governments summit in Dubai on the issue of corruption by generals. He is said to be outraged about it.

 Government wanted to respond from Dubai, but deferred to the army to deal with the issue.

Yesterday, Mnangagwa’s spokesperson George Charamba was prompted by the army to chip in, which he did, urging journalists to “exercise caution when dealing with matters of national security establishments”, while warning them of “unpalatable responses” if they sought to lead the corruption probe.

 “We continue to urge the media fraternity to treat stories to do with security structures of this country with utmost care and sensitivity,” he said.

“The ZDF has got its own internal processes to investigate any allegation against any of its members and it is always prudent for the media to follow, rather than seek to lead such a process. Leading through advocacy muddies the water and may invite some responses, which may not be that palatable.”

Insiders say military commanders fear that if the media is allowed to continue or lead covering the issue and exposing corruption within its ranks, that might stir up popular discontent among foot soldiers who are poorly paid and are struggling for survival.

Reading stories of their top bosses getting at least US$400 000 for housing, but still subsidising themselves through corruption to get upmarket houses above their pay grade, would naturally cause unrest.

Besides, sources say the story had strong political dimensions and nuances which could cause a rift within the top ranks of the army and destabilise the command element in such precarious moments of political realignment.

 Given all this and in order to protect the safety and well-being of reporters, The NewsHawks has now removed its reporters from the story with immediate effect and will not carry follow-ups, including the ones already processed for this week. The army corruption stories were pulled out of the latest edition.

The NewsHawks will not “lead” the investigation on the story anymore.

 Usually, The NewsHawks would dig in and persist undeterred, but given the clear and present danger to the safety of its reporters, the story has to be frozen to avoid “unpalatable” military reaction, which Charamba referred to. So it has been put on ice indefinitely.

As we say in journalism, in the final analysis there is no story worth dying for. However, courage in journalism is refusal to be silenced.

 We are not being silenced, but forced to make strategic decisions to secure the safety of our reporters. Self-censorship and silence are not an option in investigative journalism, yet necessary if only to ensure journalists’ safety and wellbeing, at least for the time being.

This has happened before and we handled the situation like this. Previously, The NewsHawks senior journalist, Bernard Mpofu, was forced to abandon his security-related stories and his home by state security agents who hunted him down, pushing him out of the dramatic security beat.

Mpofu had written several stories, but what particularly invited problems for The NewsHawks and him was Mnangagwa’s helicopter crash story written in August 2021.

It was another exclusive. After that story, Mpofu was run out of town — literally — and permanently left his home, amid contemplation to leave the country.

 However, The NewsHawks was forced to drop the story to secure his safety which was paramount. Unfortunately, his sources were tracked down and removed from their posts amid internal punishment and career-ending measures.

 In January 2021, The NewsHawks reported that Mnangagwa, who was on his annual leave at a time when Zimbabwe was battling Covid-19, was forced to abandon a trip to his Sherwood Farm in Kwekwe after several security personnel and a farm manager tested positive for Covid-19.

Then in August 2021, The NewsHawks reported Mnangagwa’s presidential helicopter was forced into an emergency landing over 60 kilometres southwest of Harare due to technical failure.

A follow-up story in September 2021 indicated that Mnangagwa had quickly moved to beef up his motorcade by bringing in Air Force of Zimbabwe signallers to reinforce his communication system whenever he flew out. These may well appear to be harmless to ordinary readers, but not so to state security structures.

The NewsHawks has covered many such exclusive stories which ruffle the feathers of the authorities and security services, not because of an intention to become an incendiary media platform, but out of a desire to hold public officials to account for the betterment of the nation.

The NewsHawks project is anchored on investigative and accountability journalism. This is about holding power in its various manifestations to account in the public interest.

Put differently, The NewsHawks is essentially about accountability or watchdog journalism, reporting that focuses on holding people in positions of power, including government officials, corporate executives and civil society, accountable for their actions and decisions.

It exposes betrayal of public trust, abuse of power and corruption, among other things. Investigative reporting thrives on digging deeper into a story to uncover information that may not be readily available or that those in power may not want to be made public.

 Compared to regular reporting which is about telling a story covering the basics and taking things at face value, accountability journalism specifically examines and exposes wrongdoing or malfeasance, rather than just reporting on current events or providing information to the public.

Given this precarious situation, The NewsHawks will be candid on its coverage going forward, yet even more determined to continue with investigative reporting despite the current strategic retreat to secure the safety of its reporters.

Truth always comes out in the end, no matter how hard anyone tries to hide it or stop it. In journalism, the pursuit of truth is often a solitary and thankless job, fraught with obstacles, resistance and danger; clear and present danger in this case.

Yet it is true that the truth will always come out in the end.

It might take time, and they may try to cover it up, but eventually it inevitably will. — Editor

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