Reception in Honor of VMCZ Investigative Journalism Training

All protocols observed.

Tonight we join many Zimbabweans who believe in the power of good journalism as the lifeblood of a free, democratic society. For a long time, we have witnessed efforts by the Zimbabwean media fraternity and authorities working to improve the quality of information reaching Zimbabweans. We have not hesitated to support these efforts through exchange programs and other funding support.

Investigation journalism in Zimbabwe, like in many countries in the world, is having its own crisis as it contracts and adapts to an ever more showbusiness agenda. There are fewer and fewer places for the aspiring investigative reporter to make their reputation.

But it remains the desired form of journalism that inspires society to develop and informs. Zimbabweans want to have a more informed society and these aspirations are reflected in the country’s Constitution adopted in 2013. And indeed we have all read about the several commissions and committees appointed by the authorities in Zimbabwe designed to instigate comprehensive reforms that will improve the environment for journalism and allow good journalism to thrive. The most recent such body was the Information and Media Panel of Inquiry (IMPI). We see this as a desire by Zimbabweans to improve the quality of information that reaches Zimbabwean citizens.

But recalling this journey will be incomplete without noting the parallel efforts of civil society organizations in attempting to influence the professional conduct of the media fraternity such as the one we are witnessing here today. The United States has always promoted democratic processes in Zimbabwe, and freedom of the press is one key area of intervention where we share similar values and principles contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Allow me at this juncture to mention briefly our earlier partnership with the Humanitarian Information Facilitation Center (HIFC) whom we have worked with to ensure that these well-meaning developments in the media sector include more women particularly at the leadership level of Zimbabwe’s mainstream media. The Women Journalists Mentoring Program began in 2011 to develop professional writing and leadership skills of women journalists. It has matured over the years to see these women in the media taking initiatives to increase their academic qualifications so that they match those of their male counterparts in both intellect and comprehension of the issues that affect society. And I am pleased to note that these efforts are paying off. Two of the 17 participants recommended by editors for this investigative journalism training have been part of this Women Journalists Mentoring Program before and are at the highest level of their game. I would like to recognize Tendai Manhundu (MAH-NOO–NDOO) and Veneranda Langa and encourage them to get as much as they can from this training and keep up their good work in the media. We need more women to take up investigative journalism.

This week on Thursday, top female journalists will discuss what role women can play in investigative journalism during the first of a series of Ladies Night discussion sessions to be held at the Quill Press Club. You are all welcome to attend and share your opinions.

That notwithstanding, we are pleased to support efforts by the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe to increase understanding of investigative journalism which we believe can enhance professional standards of journalism as well as improve the quality of information reaching Zimbabweans. As Secretary Kerry said early this year, “it is up to us, up to you, up to the defenders of liberty to close ranks (and defend your right to information). This begins with the recognition that no government, whatever its pretensions and whatever its accomplishments, can fairly call itself great if its citizens … are denied the right to learn about events and decisions that affect their lives….and a country without a free and independent press has nothing to brag about, nothing to teach, and no way to fulfill its potential.”

Our experience in the United States is clear testimony that good well researched products of journalists can have a positive of both citizens and those in leadership. American journalists have used their craft to call government and corporations to account for wrongdoing, secret practices, and even corruption, often leading to reform.

I have attended meetings here where the trail blazing work of journalists at The Washington Post, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein has been cited, and deservedly so. In June 1972, five men were arrested for breaking into the Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate Complex in Washington, DC. Woodward and Bernstein, were intrigued that one of the burglars was on the payroll of President Richard Nixon’s re-election committee and began digging further. Woodward and Bernstein uncovered a series of political crimes and “dirty tricks” that connected the burglary back to the White House. Their reporting led to indictments of 40 administration officials and the eventual resignation of President Nixon. The newspaper won the 1973 Pulitzer Prize for the investigative reporting.

But there are many more cases that I could cite and also document the results. In 1992, shortly after the Anita Hill controversy, Florence Graves, founder of Common Cause Magazine, began an investigation into sexual misconduct on Capitol Hill. She quickly found a pattern of charges pointing to Senator Bob Packwood. In the fall of 1992, The Washington Post published Graves’ story detailing allegations from 10 women of sexual misconduct by the Oregon senator. The story not only led to the first-ever Senate Ethics Committee investigation of sexual misconduct and the eventual resignation of Senator Packwood, but also to the passage of the landmark Congressional Accountability Act, subjecting Congress to the same discrimination laws as the rest of the nation.

We are therefore pleased to be witnessing the launch of this partnership which started on Monday with the training conducted by two distinguished women journalists, Reyhana Masters, a Zimbabwean media consultant and Ms. Lucinda Fleeson, a visiting investigative journalism training expert from the United States. I am aware that these two women are not meeting for the first time at this professional level and journalists participating at the training please be our guide and tell us what you think of this combination.

It was easy to choose Ms. Fleeson from among an array of speakers that were recommended to us by the State Department’s International Information Programs that has supposed her visit to Zimbabwe. She has won several awards, has extensive international training experience in investigative reporting, narrative storytelling, and reporting on social issues. As a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer for 15 years, Fleeson produced hundreds of stories, including investigative reports and magazine stories in labor, cultural affairs, science, and feature beats. She has trained professional journalists in Africa, Eastern and Central Europe, Latin America and South Asia.  She also taught non-fiction narrative writing, international reporting and other topics. She has written the widely used training manual “The 10 Steps to Investigative Journalism,” which has been used for teaching investigative reporting in many parts of the world ha in been translated into 18 languages and circulated to more than 20,000 journalists.

This manual has been used to form the basis of what we believe will be an enriching training experience for local journalists. As earlier speakers have said, these will include mentoring and regular meetings between the participating journalists with their mentors as well as local and international experts. Towards the end of the program, we hope a significant number of these journalists will participate at the Global Investigative Journalism Conference that will be hosted by Wits University in Johannesburg next year.

So today we dedicate this occasion to the 17 journalists drawn from across the country and across many newsrooms.  We do so at a moment when so many questions by both the public and local political leadership are begging for answers.

I have read and listened to countless stories of missing notes; a missing activist; disappearing industries; trafficked individuals and many more. All these call for answers and only investigative reporting can help us understand what is going on. But we are well aware that we are asking this at a time when the topic of freedom for journalists is particularly fresh in our minds. Despite this, investigative journalism is still possible and we hope our support will turn the committees and commissions I mentioned earlier into commitment and action.

As a diplomat, my fondest hope would be for journalists to have nothing to report about. But these are telling times and we are so grateful to have you do what you do.

To every member of Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe family and all the journalists participating: thank you, congratulations, may God bless you and keep you safe.