Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

OPINION: ‘Madam Boss’ hubby affair exposed’, is it a story? Manyowa’s take

Journalist Maynard Manyowa gives his analysis of the way the H Metro tabloid has covered the alleged affair between Ngonidzashe Evangelister Zhou and comedian Madam Boss’ husband, Ngonidzashe Munetsiwa.

I normally avoid commenting on issues of this nature. Largely because I view the stories as piss poor. My conviction is that, people with better things to do, honestly wouldn’t be bothered about sleazy bedroom stories.

But as a debate now rages on about journalism (and believe me everyone loves to tell journalists what true journalism is), I was tempted to have an ethical think about the story.

Should this story have made it to the papers? I think it boils down to one critical thing; public interest.

Journalism 101.

Despite what it looks like on the surface, I can comfortably tell that there is a difference between a matter that is ‘in the public interest’ and one that is ‘interesting to the public’. I will get back to this further down.

I will start with two disclaimers. Firstly, I am not the godfather of reporting in our country. Far from it. And I am not attacking my colleagues.

Secondly, I disagree that this story is in the public interest. And I will explain why.

However, I totally understand why a publication would run it, even though I probably wouldn’t. I will explain that too.

Back to the issue.

The public interest refers to “the welfare or well-being of the general public”. Matters in the public interest include issues that affect public health, governance, crime.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation explains this as:

The public interest includes, but is not confined to:

– Detecting or exposing crime, or the threat of crime, or serious impropriety.

– Protecting public health or safety.

– Protecting the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.

– Disclosing a person or organisation’s failure or likely failure to comply with any obligation to which they are subject.

– Disclosing a miscarriage of justice.

– Raising or contributing to a matter of public debate, including serious cases of impropriety, unethical conduct or incompetence concerning the public.

– Disclosing concealment, or likely concealment, of any of the above.

As you can see, this is different to something that is merely of interest to the public.

The public will always find stories about sex, infidelity, gossip and rumour interesting.

Well, some of the public, as evidenced by the thousands who storm Facebook groups discussing private sexual affairs day in, day out, week in week out.

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I struggle to see how the story with Madam Boss’s husband is in the public interest. It is interesting to the public, yes. But, that is about it.

Newsworthiness as the new barometer

I also understand that public interest on its own, is not what informs editorial decisions.

Some things can still be published on the basis of being newsworthy.

In this case, the issue involves two high profile celebrities, whose cough will lead to a news story. So I get why papers would run with it.

I just struggle to reconcile such a story with progressive journalism. It doesn’t make society any better, or more conscious.

It is what many would call gutter journalism.

Gutter journalism is journalism too

Many years ago, an American publication named Gawker made fame for publishing lewd stories about celebrities. The most famous being about Hulk Hogan. Gawker was sued several times and eventually went bust.

I remember reading, and agreeing, with a commentator who wrote that “Gawker thrived in gutter journalism. But it shouldn’t have been shut down, because gutter journalism is journalism too.”

So again, I fully understand why this story made the front page, but I disagree that it should have. Were I an editor, I likely would have looked aside.

You are not your own story

The last thing, and this I find curious, is that the publication at the center seems to have taken the whole story personally.

After publishing the story, they rightly defended it after their credibility was called into question. I fully support journalists defending themselves from unfair allegations of dishonesty.

Reporters invest a lot of time and skill into fact checking. So to have random people discredit you without proof warrants a paper sticking to its story.

But, days later, this defence has now turned odd. The paper has gone out of its way to publish post after post, trying to show they got it right. Interestingly they have called people who doubted their story “defence advocates”.

As tempting as it is. A journalist is not his story. You can’t take things personally as a reporter. Even if people doubt you. And you can’t trawl social media looking for comments from disagreeable people and taking the stick to them.

It starts to look a little personal.

I get that sometimes when one invests time into a story, they will feel the need to protect it. But, even that must be done at a minimal and from a distance. Stories tend to have a life of their own these days.

Reconciling newsworthiness and responsible journalism

That is my two cents. Many things interest members of the public, but not everything is in the public interest.

Responsible and ethical journalism demands that we respect things like individuals rights to privacy, not intrude on shock and grief, exercise restraint when reporting on suicide, avoid harassing respondents, not name relatives (especially children) of criminals if they are not relevant to the story, or identify victims of sexual assault, among a long list of other considerations.

As interesting and juicy as Ngoni’s story is, I can’t imagine reading that in respectable publications like NY Times, Guardian, or seeing it on Al Jazeera, or BBC’s HardTalk.

But that is just me.

– Maynard Manyowa is a Zimbabwean journalist whose award winning documentaries are featured on BBC World Service, and whose work appears in several UK publications like The Mirror, The Star, The Express, The Examiner and others. He has studied ethics in journalism extensively and is a journalism PhD Candidate at Bournemouth University.