LOCAL editors have accused the founder and leader of Prophetic Hearing Deliverance (PHD) church Walter Magaya of bribing journalist to ensure positive coverage of his ‘Night of Turnaround’ prayer meeting held in the capital last Friday.
Coverage of the event dominated the media last weekend with attendance figures variously cited in the hundreds of thousands the weekly Standard putting the figure at 300,000 and the Sunday Mail claiming 350,000 turned up though practical critics query the capacity of the venue with one publication taking to Google Earth to geometrically argue the claims .
Some of the delegates were said to have come came from countries such as Botswana, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia, Namibia, Australia, Belgium, Netherlands, and the US.
Entertainment was provided by Zimdancehall star Tocky Vibes, Sebastain Magacha, Thembalani and Flame B as well as popular South African gospel musician Benjamin Dube with the service was also screened live on Zimbabwe television (ZBCTV).
Oscar Pambuka of PHD communication department denied allegations the organisation paid journalists reporters, insisting the huge turnout was evident to anyone who watched the event on television.
“That (paying reporters) is totally unheard of. I was responsible for the media and no one was enticed and we had over 380,000 people judging by the chairs we had. We had to get the extra chairs from other partners and this was easily the biggest religious show in Southern Africa yet.”
But sceptical Zimbabweans took to social media to condemn the effusive coverage of the event by a lapdog press.
And Constantine Chimakure, editor of the daily Zimbabwe Mail which estimated attendance at 180,000, expressed concern at the creeping media rot on Facebook where he challenged industry colleagues over the problem.
“Cdes Mafunda, Mberi, Zvayi, Gama, Gift Phiri, Nevanji Madanhire, CZ, tell me what is going on? Has the noble profession been hijacked by corrupt people masquerading as journalists? I am told the crazy bald heads are paid to attend press conferences (last Thursday). They were also paid again on Friday night. That is why we had all sorts of fun stories and figures at the weekend. Is the profession going to the dogs Cdes? What should be done to salvage it?”
In a post on the troll, Daily News assignment editor Gift Phiri said that he had information that one editor of the dailies was on retainer from the so-called prophets. Another commentator added:
“Religion news has emerged as an important beat in Zimbabwean journalism over the past couple of years. My thoughts are our Press has shirked its responsibilities to all its readers by ignoring the ethics around the religion news beat. Journalism is about reporting facts, religion journalism about (respectfully) reporting about beliefs that can’t be proved. As such, references to miracles, healing and demons ought to be handled carefully, not casually”.
Examples in the Press (actual reports): “Demons were given short shrift by the man of the cloth.” “People were healed during the session.”/ “Many miracles kept happening, as demons manifested in his presence throughout the night.” / “The lame were walking, as they could be seen raising their (ahem) clutches.”
Daily News assignment editor Gift Phiri said he had information that an editor with one of the dailies was on retainer from the so-called prophets.
“Ultimately, we should discourage funding of journalists by campaign teams of these prophets, or personally by the prophets themselves as it poses a serious threat to the integrity of news reportage. Kuda ndoprosperity gospel yacho”.
However, Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) secretary general Foster Dongozi said he was not aware that money was changing hands between reporters and Magaya but conceded that the prayer meeting received “interesting coverage”.
“Without singling out the PHD prophet, we have heard information from journalists as well that no bad coverage for these charismatic leaders is accepted in the newsroom and all such stories thrown into the dust bin by the editors,” said Dongozi.
But as the media industry collapses with some newspapers now in the habit of late payment or not paying their reporters on time this is breeding ground of corruption. But we do not support such behaviour as it destroys the profession.