Role of Media Managers in the Development of Democratic Governance

Introduction

The role of media managers in modern democratic societies has been redefined and carries more responsibilities.  They have a very crucial role in making sure that information is delivered in its purest, accurate and objective form.

Their roles can help in the development of good governance and democracy in Southern Africa,  especially countries like Zimbabwe where democracy is still in its infancy.

The different explanations and understandings of the words ‘democracy’ and ‘governance’ will be given and further explored.  The main focus will be on how a media manager can contribute in shaping their country and people into better understanding and better practice of democratic governance.

A conclusion will be on how media managers can improve on their role to help achieve total democracy and good governance. Through these sections, it should be possible to illustrate the nature of the structure and relationships within media representation in the Zimbabwean context.

Media Managers

A media manager supervises and coordinates the editorial activities of a publishing house or a publication. They are sometimes referred to as ‘editor-in-chief’ or ‘managing editor’. In some states or publications, a managing editors tends to deal with the business side of the publication and staffing issues and in such cases, a deputy editor will be in charge of the editorial activities. However, most publications require a managing editor who deals with the editorial activities as well as management of staff.

Democracy

A Greek word which can simply mean ‘rule by people’ (Oxford University Press). The standard meaning of the word ‘democracy’ refers to a government by the people in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, democracy is a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Pericles, (a democratic leader of Athens 430 BC) argues that democracy is linked with toleration but he did not make any special claims to majority rule. According to a Social Scientist (A. Mushonga), it is perhaps safe to say that there are as many definitions of democracy as there are writers on the subject.

Governance

The concept, good governance, became widely used from the 1980s, particularly by multi-lateral donor agencies who began to popularise and use it extensively as a precondition for their disbursement of funds to developing countries (UNECA Report 2004). According to the Human Development Report- Zimbabwe (2000), African academics and institutions had began to discuss the concept much earlier in attempts to refine it. The Khartoum Declaration of 1988 defining governance as:

  •         The promotion of human development
  •         Restoration of basic freedoms and human rights
  •         Overcoming political instability and intolerance, and
  •         Curtailing of over-centralisation of power.

In the 1990s, a number of social scientists were working on a definitive meaning of ‘governance’. M.Whitehead (Area 35) sees governance has a process whereby formal governing structures are no longer focused primarily on the political realms of public sector government but are increasingly incorporating a wide range of interests drawn from the private sector and civil society.

The Role of Media Managers (Zimbabwe)

By virtue of the positions they occupy, media managers play several critical roles in shaping society including the way in which it is governed. Ideally, they play a referee role keeping all parties within the democratic boundaries. This section outlines some of the major role that they play in this regard, and especially in promoting democratic governance with a specific focus on Zimbabwe.

1.Providing accurate and unbiased information

Access to information is essential to a healthy democracy. Everyone has a right to freedom of opinion and expression. This right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of  frontiers. (USAID Media Report 1999)

Media managers need to make sure that information delivered to the public is credible at all times. In Zimbabwe, one of the biggest challenges is to make sure that their publications are not controlled by the government or private interests.

Media managers have a responsibility of focusing on the facts that will help the public to make  informed decisions. They can also do this by providing a choice of plural voices within their publications and in so doing, they become objective and offer choice. By achieving this, media managers can then become  vehicles of democracy.

If the media fails to provide diverse information then this strongly undermines the development of democracy in a country like Zimbabwe, where the general public is thirsty for news and political developments.

2.Take lead in fighting for freedom of expression

Presently, media managers in Zimbabwe are fighting for editorial independence especially at state-run publications which remain mainly controlled by the government. On the other hand, private run publications are taking an extreme view on democracy and governance issues therefore creating a media field of two extremes. In order for media managers to show their support for democracy, a certain degree of editorial independence is of paramount importance.

Their efforts have been further hampered by the newly introduced Media Law. The Access to Information and Protection to Privacy Act was signed into law shortly after the controversial presidential elections in 2002. The Act makes it illegal for any media professional to practice in Zimbabwe without a licence from the Information Ministry and it also imposed a total ban on foreign media.

There was a general media outcry and media managers managed to take the case to Supreme court which ruled that parts of the new media law was in fact unconstitutional and invalid.

This has made it even more difficult for journalists and especially media managers in Zimbabwe  to make sound contributions that can contribute to the general development of democratic governance.

However, all media managers in Zimbabwe agree on one thing; the need of total freedom of speech to enable them to deliver accurate news without any fear or favour. They have tirelessly worked on achieving this by highlighting their plight and taking the necessary legal procedures. Their need for an independent media commission shows that they have a strong desire to promote good governance and democracy in this Southern African state and generally across Southern Africa.

      3. Reminding Societies of Democratic Principles

The general public need constant reminders of the fundamental principles of democracy. Media managers can help in this by publishing frequent reminders through appropriate contributions in their publications. The public needs to be made aware of any human rights abuses and whenever people’s rights are compromised. In so doing, the public will keep sharp and they will be more aware at the slight derailment from the democratic tracks.

4. Acquiring appropriate technology and increasing media products

Media managers need to make appropriate decision and choices of technology which will ensure that information reaches all members of the public on time and with the correct messaging. In this case advance technology has helped media managers to make information flow between Zimbabwe and the wider international audiences. The application of web-based news publications, online radio stations and forums has made it easier to reach people worldwide.  The engagement of a wider audience avails information to regional, continental and international watchdog bodies such as the relevant SADC, AU and UN agencies. By so doing, it encourages and forces the government to stay in a democratic path as the international community will be aware of developments in the country. This also eliminates isolation which in some cases promotes poor governance and weakens democracy.

5.   Constraints of the operating environment

As a result of the role that it plays, the media is always pitted against various interest groups including the government, political parties and interest groups. To play their roles effectively therefore, media manages need to be skilful in managing these teams to ensure their continued existence and effectiveness of their work. In order to carry out all these duties effectively, media managers need a conducive environment to work in and require enough resources to administer their activities.

Conclusion

Media managers play the critical role of ensuring that through information gathering, packaging, and dissemination, all social actors are properly positioned and equipped to contribute meaningfully to the development of a society desirable to all. They promote political participation by supplying the relevant facts and opening up to all about the reality. Members of the public take courage from them and voice out their concerns or demand their rights. This keeps under check the management of state power vis-à-vis the citizenry. It is mutual recognition and respect between the state and the citizenry which forms the clinch-pin of democratic governance.

It is clear that media managers have a very big role to play in developing democratic governance. This is because the public mostly relies on them to provide accurate reports on events, developments and news articles. In so doing, they have a huge influence on the mind-set of people in any society. The public generally uses the media to find out what exactly is going on in their community, socially and politically.

It is also important that they are available in different formats like print, online and broadcast  and have varied ‘voices’ so that a person who can only access a newspaper and not the internet will not miss out on crucial information and vice versa.

At present, the Zimbabwe media is dominated by male managers. It is very important to have a gender balance in order to achieve different lines of thought and objectiveness. This male dominance is spread across all types of media, print, broadcast and even online publications. Part of democracy and good governance is making sure institutes like media are well balanced in gender, sex, race and creed.

REFERENCES

1)   Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press, United Kingdom

2)   Pericles,  Leader of Athens, Greece 430 BC

3)   Mushonga, Social Scientist, UNECA 2003

4)   United Nations Economic Commission for Africa Governance Report 2004

5)   Human Development Report- Zimbabwe (2000)

6)   M.Whitehead, Area 35

7)   USAID Media Report 1999

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