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A fool and his pen, what a bad combo!

April Fools' Day has been celebrated for several centuries by different cultures. The media embraced the tradition and have been participating in the April 1 tradition of reporting outrageous fictional claims that have fooled their audiences.
However, all these years, the media participated in the annual custom with a high level of responsibility. They played harmless pranks upon a subject in a manner that only stimulated amusement. The pranks were played by journalists who had an appreciation of the day.

April Fools' Day, as some historians speculate, dates back to 1582, when France switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar. In the Julian calendar, the New Year began on April 1. Some people who were slow to get the news or failed to recognize that the start of the New Year had moved to January 1 and continued to celebrate it on April 1, became the butt of jokes and hoaxes and were called April fools.

It is in this spirit that we continue to celebrate the tradition. However, some journalists have mischievously turned the day into a platform to score some political capital. A story, supposedly made to fulfil this fixture in The Zimbabwe Mail, epitomizes how the tradition has gone to the dogs.

The article titled ‘Zimbabwe's Mnangagwa tests positive to Covid-19,' claims that the President has gone into treatment after testing positive to corona virus. It goes on to claim that the President was seen in Namibia sitting next to Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi who has since placed himself on self-quarantine.

The article goes on to claim that the President, after showing signs of the COVID 19, was taken to Manyame Airbase where "there is a VIP facility." It adds that after testing positive, he did not isolate himself but went on to mingle with party members and civil servants. The Presidential spokesperson, George Charamba is alleged to have confirmed that there are a few people at Munhumutapa and ZANU PF Headquarters who were infected with COVID 19.

According to the article, Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube is also alleged to have mild symptoms and recovering at home after he recently returned from Europe and meeting with the late COVID casualty, Zororo Makamba.

One does not need to be clever to see the agenda behind the article. It was a joke in extremely bad taste. The country and the globe in general, are battling to contain the pandemic that has consumed over 40 000 lives yet some reckless scribes decide to make an embarrassingly bad joke of it. The media is one sector that was granted the essential service status. They were given that privilege in the spirit that they will inform the public about the pandemic.  After all it is one of its key roles in society.

However, for the media to be credible, it has to take responsibility for getting its facts right. The claptrap in the Zimbabwe Mail article betrays the trust that Government has invested in the media. The editor of that publication should have been more diligent in assigning the task of coming up with an April Food Day spoof. Assigning this responsibility to a fool, which he did, has turned catastrophic. 

In the article, the Zimbabwe Mail attempts to portray the President as someone who is defying his own directive for people to self-isolate for 21 days if they had been in contact with someone known to have the virus. The article insinuates that by mingling with the party structures and civil servants, the president was deliberately spreading the virus.

There was also a poor attempt to perpetuate the narrative that the ruling elites have a special facility where they are treated. It is this kind of misinformation that had spurred the puffed-up Advocate Thabani Mpofu, Tsitsi Dangarembwa and Hopewell Chin'ono to organise a demo against the so-called COVID 19 clinics allegedly funded through Sakunda.

Such irresponsible journalistic practice vindicates the Government for coming up with Statutory Instrument 83 of 2020 which criminalises the publication and communication of fake news concerning the COVID-19 pandemic. While the Zimbabwe Mail evades legal responsibility because they are a faceless creature, that cannot be the same with their credibility. Several other online publications which thrived on dishonesties and trickeries folded quickly and the Zimbabwe Mail is heading towards the same doom.

Zimbabwe is a democratic country that allows media freedom. However, the media abuse the freedom, forcing the Government to put some control measures.  If the media are not responsible enough for self-regulation, the Government will do it for them. Other countries banned April Fools' Day pranks related to COVID-19, with some threatening jail time as they seek to prevent the spread of rumours which could put lives at risk.Google, which is famous for its annual spoofs, has cancelled the tradition because of the pandemic. Google said it had suspended its annual April Fools' tradition "out of respect for all those fighting the COVID-19 pandemic".

"Our highest goal right now is to be helpful to people, so let's save the jokes for next April, which will undoubtedly be a whole lot brighter than this one," Google said in an internal email to its staff.

Thailand said on Tuesday (Mar 31) that April Fools' Day jokes about the virus could be punished under a law carrying a sentence of up to five years in prison. Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen took to Facebook to tell people not to prank about the virus, adding that anyone spreading rumours or false information could face up to three years in jail and/or a fine of up to NT$3 million (US$99,200).

In India, Maharashtra State's cyber security unit said it would take legal action against anyone spreading fake news on April Fools' Day. Under the heading "Corona is no joke," Germany's health ministry also urged the public not to make up stories related to the virus.Zimbabwe never banned the April Fools Day on the hope that the scribes are responsible enough. With how people rely on the internet and media for vital information about coronavirus, these jokes could fan the spread of misinformation and the virus too. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has also noted that the spread of misinformation (which they term infodemic) can increase the spread of the virus among vulnerable people. 

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Chuka (Webby) Aniemeka
Chuka (Webby) Aniemeka

Chuka is an experienced certified web developer with an extensive background in computer science and 18+ years in web design &development. His previous experience ranges from redesigning existing website to solving complex technical problems with object-oriented programming. Very experienced with Microsoft SQL Server, PHP and advanced JavaScript. He loves to travel and watch movies.

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