Part 2 of the Al Jazeera documentary picked up where the first left off. Only we were introduced to more characters in the Gold Mafia, the gang allegedly looting the country dry. You probably saw the documentary so there is no need to summarise.
What was interesting regarding that whole saga is what happened in between the episodes. Presidential spokesperson, George Charamba, using one of his many Twitter accounts threatened journalists covering the Al Jazeera documentary. He tweeted,
FRIENDLY ADVICE TO ALL RECKLESS JOURNALISTS: Al-Jazeera is not a court of law before whose claims impart privileges to defamatory utterances. It is merely some weaponised channel. If you are reckless enough to repeat what its phoney documentary defamatorily says, hoping to plead:
“I heard/saw it on Al Jazeera”, you will be sorry for yourself. Do not for once think there is no grit to act against reckless, defamatory and politically motivated journalism. Faceless Twitter names egging you on will not be a factor when brickbats come. Be warned!George Charamba, Press Secretary in the Office of the President of Zimbabwe on Twitter (@Tinoedzazvimwe1)
There was nothing friendly about the ‘advice’. It was a run-of-the-mill threat. Hardly the response you would expect when some journalists say they have uncovered a conspiracy that is defrauding the country. If I were him, I would have tweeted something along the lines of,’
‘As you know, the Second Republic takes any reports or suspicions of corruption seriously. The Intelligence agencies and the Anti-Corruption Committee are looking into the evidence that Al Jazeera has on the so-called Gold Mafia. If it can be proven that indeed there was corruption, all involved will face the full wrath of the law, regardless of job title.‘
Even if it was all mumbo-jumbo, that’s what I would have tweeted. Of course, he couldn’t write something like this. Not when some of the apparently shady characters are declaring in their own words on camera that they have express authorisation from the President of the republic. Hence the tactic of just threatening journalists into not covering the story at all.
We just cannot condone threatening journalists with brickbats though. Even if Al Jazeera is not a court of law, there should be no room for such threats.
That said, he made some good points in his threat. I am not sure how it would play out in court; I hear defamation is hard to prove, however, in all good conscience we should not be defaming people just because they probably wouldn’t be able to win in court.
Al Jazeera did their investigations and is sharing with us what they found. That’s all great but it doesn’t make what they share gospel truth.
At best these are accusations and until/unless the accused, the ones alleged to be engaged in corruption, are allowed to answer in front of a neutral party who determines what’s what, we can’t conclusively state anything about them.
It’s hard in this case because we all know there is corruption in the mining sector, heck all across our economy. That much cannot be disputed. What we don’t know for sure is who is involved in this corruption. Al Jazeera has given us some potential names but that’s it.
I’m inclined to believe that the singled out people really are corrupt. I’m sure most of you also believe the same too. However, they have not been tried and seen to be corrupt.
I’m sympathetic to this because I have seen how the #MeToo movement in the U.S. became a tool to destroy people using baseless allegations. If someone falsely claimed you raped them today and we all started calling you ‘the alleged rapist’ you would cry foul.
It is human nature to spread negative/scandalous news more than the opposite. And we all know that retractions do not get the same virality that the original story gets. So, even if some of the alleged mafioso are innocent and they prove their innocence in court, we likely won’t hear of it.
So, fairness means that we should entertain (although everything in us does not believe it) the littlest of chances that at least some of the characters portrayed could be innocent. Being fair is tough!
Some of the alleged corrupt people were caught on camera boasting that they could do all sorts of shady stuff. That’s pretty cut and dry, right? How can you say it wasn’t you, like Shaggy, when you are on tape incriminating yourself?
Well, there is that pesky thing called editing. In most cases, for brevity, editors have to decide on what to include and what to omit from the published story.
Obviously, Al Jazeera could not release the uncut videos. Who would want to sit through a 13-hour episode? Therefore, they had to pick and choose what to include in their episodes without affecting clarity and coherence. If you can tell a clear story in 2 minutes, there is no reason to do it in 4.
We understand that. However, we have to remind ourselves that editing can be used to tell whatever story the editors want to tell. We could give two editors the same source material and they could come up with diametrically opposed narratives.
That’s because editors can omit important details that contradict the desired narrative. Or they could highlight certain facts that support a particular viewpoint. All this influences how viewers/readers perceive the truth.
It goes further, the tone or language of the narrator has a huge impact on viewers’ emotions and opinions about the subject matter too. The narrator/editor’s word choices and attitude affect how the viewer/reader interprets the content.
Al Jazeera’s tone is clear. They are disgusted by the Gold Mafia and what do you know, so are we. Coincidence?
One of the characters alleged to be involved in the gold looting, Rikki Doolan had this to say about the documentary,
The documentary circulating right now is brutally edited to portray a false narrative.
I’m not a gold dealer, and I never have been, so what they are pushing is a false narrative.Rikki Doolan
I believe Doolan is guilty as portrayed by Al Jazeera but in order to be fair, I have to empathise with him here. We are not privy to the full, unedited conversations he had with Al Jazeera’s undercover journalists.
It really could be the case that some of his words were taken out of context, and some other contradicting statements could have been edited out.
We are all adults here, I don’t think anyone would be shocked to find out that Al Jazeera had the Gold Mafia story to tell and so would have been under pressure, external or internal, to tell that story.
That means it would have been easy to overlook all that worked against the narrative they had invested so much into telling.
That’s how brutal edits come about.
I believe that of course, Al Jazeera cherry-picked the parts that best told the Gold Mafia story. I still believe though that even if we got the whole tapes, the story would more or less stay the same.
We would still have to conclude that the Gold Mafia is looting the country dry and the named individuals are indeed the culprits.
To me, this shows why podcasts are popular now. There is no rush, there is no edit. Just a 4-hour conversation with everything that was said there for the viewer to peruse. No interviewee can cry, ‘brutal edit’.
Broadcast television does not have that luxury, they have to edit, to keep the neutrals and casuals hooked. Once editing is a reality, there is room for bias.
One of the main talking points following episode 2 was the involvement of Simbarashe Chikanza as a researcher. The ZimEye founder is a divisive figure, to say the least.
He picked fights with Alex Magaisa before his death. He has an ongoing beef with Hopewell Chin’ono. Chikanza called Chin’ono a CIO agent, a rapist, a fraudster and many other nasty things. Of course, Chin’ono denied all of it and lucky for him, the public believed him.
These are but a few times that Chikanza has been accused of fabricating stories. So, to find out that he is credited as a researcher in the Al Jazeera documentary did not sit right with many.
That includes those in the ruling party who were quick to call the documentary a CCC documentary after seeing that Chikanza was a researcher on the project.
The alleged Gold Mafia will not like this and I get it. ‘Alleged’ means ‘convicted’ if we’re being honest. The public court of opinion has no time for allegations. We believe ‘where there is smoke, there is fire.’
So, unfortunately, once it’s alleged you did something, you could prove that wasn’t the case in a court of law but your reputation will forever be tarnished. After all, Zimbabweans have a good reason not to trust the judicial system.
So, being cleared by the courts which many perceive to be partisan and biased does not help one bit in clearing one’s name. Those alleged to be in the Gold Mafia will forever be judged to have been in the Mafia, even if they legally prove otherwise.
However, like the good citizens we are, we will take the Press Secretary in the Office of the President of Zimbabwe’s threats seriously. We will call these allegations. They are no more than that.
Before you crucify me, I will reiterate that I believe the allegations. I just wouldn’t stake my life on Al Jazeera not creatively editing the documentary to tell a particular story. I’d have to see the whole tapes to put my life on the line.
That doesn’t mean we should not talk about the Gold Mafia. It is not every day that we get to peek behind the curtain to see this kind of corruption. Let us take time to understand what the allegations mean but let’s do it knowing that they are just allegations at the moment.
What do you think though? There is no denying that threatening journalists against covering allegations of corruption does not sound particularly wise and needs to be condemned in no uncertain terms. However, there is merit in his arguments. Where do you fall on this? Let us know in the comments section below.