data must fall in Zimbabwedata must fall in Zimbabwe
Listen to story
Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Journalists must fact-check any information that is sensational and shrill before publication and consider sharing facts that are sound and solid.

Chris Chinaka, Editor in Chief Zimfact

The emergence of news aggregators on messenger platforms in Zimbabwe presented an affordable opportunity for increased access to digital information.

You may be wondering examples of News aggregators in Zimbabwe :

These are online platforms in this case, WhatsApp groups that post news stories from various media publications and organize them in a specific manner. Examples are Nhau/Indaba , News Report, Pindula et al.

During the big boom of news aggregators in 2017 on Messenger platforms, more Zimbabweans could access news stories from their daily newspapers using their social media bundles without having to visit websites and social media pages..

The disruptive approach of aggregated news solved the problem of affordability and equitable access to digital news. A survey conducted by ZNCJ shows an average cost of $5 to advertise in plain text for 24 hours on a news aggregate platform. It may also cost up to $350 to advertise for the whole month, depending on the media formats.

The aggregate news platforms paved the way for digital marketing startups to claim a market share of advertising revenue from local businesses, which in turn also benefited small businesses with the opportunity to advertise on digital platforms.

However, with the benefits of increased access and affordability to information, news aggregators are largely responsible for polluting the media and information ecosystem with misinformation and disinformation.

Preliminary evidence collected by ZNCJ revealed that news aggregate platforms are operating outside the press code, media ethics, and in breach of information laws in Zimbabwe, going as far as infringing copyright and the right to reuse and republish information.

The problems that came with aggregators

Absence of editorial policy

News aggregators have no gatekeeping measures or policies when it comes to the news they distribute and the advertisements they post.

The platforms will copy and paste news articles that are likely to be shared without fact-checking the articles and verifying their origins.

In this instance, aggregators pose the risk of spreading false information published on websites that may have fact-checking errors.

Secondly, messenger platforms do not have automated information filters to detect misinformation. Therefore, industrial distribution of unverified news stories given to sensationalism is a major profit driver for advertising revenue but carries the risk of festering information disorder.

Reinforcement of stereotypes and negative reporting

According to a study by ZNCJ (2023), people are more likely to open news stories with negative headlines about politics and the economy.

Moreso, negative headlines are typically created as click bait and sensational.

It is evident that sensational headlines generate the most traffic and multiple shares on WhatsApp.

As a result, stereotypes are reinforced through sensationalised stories, and negative reports about politics and the economy will flood the information ecosystem.

The negative reporting has a high chance of reaching diasporans, risking a trail of reinforced stereotypes and negative reports to people living outside of Zimbabwe.

Copy-and-paste journalism devalues intellectual property.

Northern region Journalists unanimously agreed at an investigative reporting training workshop by MISA that news aggregation is lazy journalism that devalues original content.

For instance, the news stories pushed by aggregators are copied from websites, which are hosts of the original content. The majority of online publications generate revenue from the website traffic that is drawn by the original content that is posted.

When news aggregators copy and paste news stories on WhatsApp groups, they divert website traffic and potential advertising revenue due to the original publishers of the news story.

In essence, news aggregate platforms directly attack the business model of online publications that rely on website traffic for advertising revenue; thus, content is devalued.

It is unethical to amass economic benefit from copyrighted and unlicensed digital products.

Abusing the free market economy

New aggregators are comparable to pirates and illegal vendors of digital content. The business model operates outside the obligations of taxation and regulation.

Technically, the new aggregate platforms are disruptive hybrid advertising businesses operating in a free internet economy that is prone to abuse.

Because it’s a free market economy, the media is infiltrated by opportunists in the industrial distribution of news for profit.

Opportunities created by news aggregate platforms

Increased access to information

News aggregation increased access to information by bridging the digital gap by making use of easily accessible messenger applications such as WhatsApp.

Information can now reach communities that were underserved by mainstream and legacy media.

Statistically, over 90 percent of Zimbabweans with access to the internet are connected to WhatsApp Messenger. As a result,  WhatsApp users in remote and underserved communities affected by digital poverty can now access news stories and information that was only accessible to urban populations.

Increased affordability news stories

News aggregate platforms have claimed a substantial market share among media consumers due to their competitive advantage.

Technically, it takes a WhatsApp data bundle and a device that is capable of installing the Messenger application.

Econet Wireless Zimbabwe charges $1 for a 120MB WhatsApp bundle and 35 SMS valid for a week. With this pricing, news and information are now cheaper. The public can now access news stories from different publications on a single platform, which may last for several days.

Earning opportunities for unemployed media and marketing graduates

Media and marketing graduates have the opportunity to start online advertising startups through aggregating news.

The business model relies heavily on the advertising in the WhatsApp groups.

A survey conducted by ZNCJ shows an average cost of $5 to advertise in plain text for 24 hours on a news aggregate platform.

If managed well, news aggregate platforms have the potential to employ journalists and marketers to legitimise their operations.

ZNCJ’s position

ZNCJ supports and advocates for equitable access to information and the affordability of digital news.

However, these privileges must not amount to the spread of fake news or infringements on rights to reuse and republication.

We subscribe to media development and innovation through the ethical use of disruptive technologies available on the free market.

ZNCJ strongly condemns unethical media practices and abuse of the free market and digital technologies.

News aggregate platforms that are found spreading misinformation are polluting the information ecosystem and the credibility of Zimbabwe’s media industry.

This report will unpack the problematic areas created by news aggregators and the opportunities created by a free market in the media as a result of a liberalised internet.

If you support independent community focused journalism in Zimbabwe, you are welcome to donate towards ZNCJ.ORG fund.

Click here to make a PayPal donation or contact us at zncj@yahoo.com

 

User Avatar

By Richard Matthew Kawazi

Richard Kawazi is a media policy and tech enthusiast, also a multi award winning journalist with a keen interest in Experimental Media Development.