Alternative media and African democracy: The Daily News and opposition politics in Zimbabwe, 1997-2010

Runhanya, P. 2014. Alternative media and African democracy: The Daily News and opposition politics in Zimbabwe, 1997-2010. PhD thesis University of Westminster Faculty of Media, Arts and Design

TitleAlternative media and African democracy: The Daily News and opposition politics in Zimbabwe, 1997-2010
TypePhD thesis
AuthorsRunhanya, P.

The end of the 1990s and the beginning of the 21st century were marked by enormous social, economic and political challenges in Africa and in other developing contexts. This was partly due to the effects of a global economic recession and arguably failed national economic structural adjustment programmes, rampant public sector corruption and a rise in authoritarianism, as states tried to keep restive populations under control. Zimbabwe saw intense political struggles between the government and various agents of social change who were pressing for democratic space. This study specifically investigates how the news media in Zimbabwe played a critical role in actively mobilizing for political change and as a site for opposition politics and agitation during moments of turmoil and repression from 1997-2010. Zimbabwe’s news media, particularly privately owned newspapers, provided more accessible platforms for robust debate that challenged the status quo in the troubled state. Not only did the private press in Zimbabwe successfully oppose the one-party state after the country attained independence in 1980, they were even more significant at the height of the economic and political governance crisis, also known as the Zimbabwe Crisis, from 2000-2010. My research focuses on the unprecedented ways in which newspaper journalism helped the cause of democratisation in Zimbabwe. The research is designed as a qualitative case study of The Daily News, a leading private newspaper whose masthead was aptly worded: “telling it like it is”. Apart from content illustration of purposely-selected headlines of newspaper articles, it was based on semi-structured interviews conducted with 51 respondents, who were mainly politicians and journalists living in Zimbabwe. I also draw upon my experience and observations of having worked for the Daily News during this eventful period. The research methods gave me access to primary data on the institutional and personal experiences of a private newspaper and its journalists, who reflected and affected the political crisis in Zimbabwe. The main aim was to investigate why and how news journalists working for a prominent private medium came to oppose an undemocratic state under conditions of repression. The analytical lens of alternative media facilitates a construction of how The Daily News and its journalists experienced, reported, confronted and navigated state authoritarianism in a historical moment of political turmoil. The study discusses the complex relationships between the independent and privately-owned press, the main opposition political party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and civil

society organizations. Such groups include the labour movement and the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), the main constitutional reform movement. This dissertation argues that in the struggles for political change that ensued between the opposition forces and the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party, The Daily News provided form and solidity to oppositional and civic voices that were previously shut out by the dominant public media. The significance of this study is that existing scholarship on media and communication studies in Zimbabwe do not adequately capture these experiences. The agency of such media institutions and journalists has rarely been investigated. Further, the research provides an original analysis of the operations of The Daily News and its journalists in the context of highly undemocratic political moment, inclusive of the trials and tribulations, such as assaults, arrests, detentions, and office bombings, civil and criminal trials. Arguably, this study fills an important lacuna in scholarship on the role of the news media in democratising states during moments of political instability. The study thus contributes to knowledge on the experiences of alternative, opposition, activist and often radical journalists in Zimbabwe, where they championed ordinary citizens’ stories instead of focussing entirely on expert views of the crisis. By embracing alternative media theory as the analytic lens of the study, there is arguably a normative contribution to knowledge through the use of the framework in a democratising context to broaden the understanding of the role of the news media in societies going through turbulent political transitions.

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