Demystifying Democracy in the Digital Age: Determining the democratic potential of participatory journalism in Zimbabwe

Bruce Mutsvairo

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Democracy and media are inseparable as has been documented by several scholars (See Fog, 2004; Wahl-Jorgenson & Hanitzsch, 2009; Dutta, 2011; Bhattacharyya & Hodler, 2012 ). Disciples of democracy claim the system has an intertwined relationship with media, possibly explaining why the two words are often used interchangeably. Contemporary media research has moved to focus more on the democratic potentiality of participatory journalism (Carlson, 2007; Deuze et. al., 2007; De Zuniga, 2009; Kaufhold et. al., 2010) The emergence of new media platforms is thus expectedly rejuvenating long-standing debate on the role of media in democracy. Better still, empirical research has credited participatory journalism for example with helping free up the democratic space in several countries including China (Reeze & Dai, 2009), the U.S. (Young, 2008) and Burma (Pidduck, 2010). Only a handful of studies have however documented the democratic potentiality of content wholly-produced and shared among untrained media professionals on the African continent. This study uses Zimbabwe as a case study to investigate the democratic significance of participatory journalism. Traditionally, Zimbabwe has dominated headlines in the West for several reasons including the perceived repression on the part of the government towards free press. Journalists seen as critical to President Robert Mugabe’s government have allegedly been arrested while independent newspapers are said to have been closed down. But for some, the Internet has changed the rules of the game forcing previously authoritarian governments, including purportedly Zimbabwe’s, to open up. Critiquing Rheingold’s (1993) utopian view that the Internet has democratising potential, this study argues based on a three-month online ethnographical assessment of citizen comments appearing in the country’s two major publications ( and The that the major democratic contribution of citizen journalism is rather its ability to enable Zimbabweans to tell stories from their own perspectives, a chance never accorded to them by both the state and Western media in general.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - May 2013
EventThe Cadbury Conference 2013: African newspaper cultures - Birmingham
Duration: 1 May 2013 → …


ConferenceThe Cadbury Conference 2013: African newspaper cultures
Period1/05/13 → …


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