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Selection and silence: Contesting meanings of land in Zimbabwean media
Wendy Willems, Ecquid Novi: African Journalism Studies
2004

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Introduction

With the widespread occupation of commercial farms in February 2000, Zimbabwe's long-standing problem of its inequitable land distribution brought about by colonialism regained the attention of local and international media. Whereas the farm occupations were part of a much wider economic and political crisis in the country, the media - and the foreign media in particular - often focused its attention on the land issue without relating these to other developments in the country. The Zimbabwean government became increasingly concerned about how the land occupations were covered in the media and attributed great importance to media representations of the land question. This is demonstrated by the government's paranoid attempts to control the operations of both local and international media through the introduction of stringent legislation.

The government also showed confidence in the persuasive power of the media. After the 2000 parliamentary elections, it increasingly began to use the state-funded media in order to win the hearts and minds of Zimbabweans for its 'fast-track land reform' exercise. A music album named 'Hondo ye Minda' [the struggle for land] was launched and a variety of jingles and video clips were introduced such as 'Chave Chimurenga' [it is now war] and 'Rambai Makashinga' [continue to persevere]. These would appear on state radio and television several times per hour.

Acknowledging the crucial nature of representations of the land question in the Zimbabwean public sphere, this article analyses how meanings of land were contested in two daily newspapers, the privately-owned The Daily News and the state-funded The Herald, in the period from February 2000 leading up to the parliamentary elections in June 2000. It deals with the nature of their reporting, their selection of headlines, and their attribution of agency towards certain actors.

News is always a selection of events that are taking place in the real world at a particular moment in time. News is therefore not simply that what happens but that which can be presented as newsworthy. Whereas some events will be highlighted, others will be ignored. As Foucault (1978:27) has pointed out, silence is very much part of any discourse:

Silence itself - the things one declines to say, or is forbidden to name, the discretion that is required between different speakers - is less the absolute limit of discourse, the other side from which it is separated by a strict boundary, than an element that functions alongside the things said, with them and in relation to them within overall strategies.

Applying this to news production, Van Dijk (1991:114) argues that the analysis of the 'unsaid' is sometimes more revealing than the study of what is actually expressed in text. The focus of the analysis will be on how newspapers have both included and excluded information in their reporting on the need for land reform, the relation between farmers and farm workers and the causes of farm occupations.

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