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Key findings
  • Radio remains the leading source of media news for adult Zimbabweans. Six out of 10 citizens (59%) said they get news regularly (“every day” or “a few times a week”) via the radio, compared to 33% for television and 17% for newspapers. About one in five citizens get news regularly from social media (21%) and the Internet (18%). But “other people” surpass all media channels as a regular source of news, cited by almost two-thirds (64%) of respondents.
  • News habits have changed little in Zimbabwe in recent years. Only social media shows significant recent growth as a regular news source.
  • Urban and rural residents differ sharply in their news habits. For example, while television beats out radio in cities (69% vs. 63%), only 12% of rural inhabitants regularly get TV news.
  • About three-fourths (73%) of citizens own or have access to radios, compared to 48% for televisions and 23% for computers. Poor citizens are less likely to own communications devices and to access the Internet than their better-off counterparts.
  • Religious leaders are the most trusted institution in Zimbabwe, making them a potentially valuable conduit for information during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a crisis, the ability to disseminate information rapidly and effectively can be a matter of life and death. During the COVID-19 pandemic, accurate, timely, and trusted information about the number of cases, ways to prevent infection, government curfew and lockdown orders, and reasons why they’re important can help reduce transmission, dispel rumors, prevent panic, limit the use of dangerous quack “treatments,” facilitate planning for a stay-at-home period, and improve compliance, ultimately reducing the impact of the virus.

What are the best ways of informing Zimbabweans about COVID-19 and other issues of critical importance? How do traditional media compare to new media platforms? What are the most trusted voices and the most effective channels?

Afrobarometer data from 2017 and 2018 show that radio remains the leading source of media news for Zimbabweans, although television dominates in urban areas. More citizens own mobile phones than radios or televisions, but most of those phones don’t have access to the Internet, and use of digital media is still limited.

Importantly, there’s one source of news that’s accessed more frequently than any media channel: other people. During a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, this highlights the importance of responsible information-sharing, backed whenever possible by fact-checking, to avoid spreading rumors and misinformation, whether on social media or in everyday conversation. The data also show that religious leaders are the most trusted institution in the country, making them a potentially valuable conduit for COVID-19 information on any channel.

Anyway Chingwete

Anyway is the deputy director of surveys

Stephen Ndoma

Stephen is the assistant project manager for Southern Africa