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laws and the media
Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ)
Extracted from Weekly Media Update 2004-35
Monday August 30th – Sunday September 5th 2004
of alternative sources of information through repressive media laws
has resulted in most Zimbabweans being obliged to rely on government-controlled
media for information. As a result, they remain ill informed about
the continued erosion of their constitutionally guaranteed rights.
The laws, which have since seen the forced closure of three privately
owned newspapers, have not only denied Zimbabweans the right of
choice, but have also severely compromised the flow and quality
of news the few remaining alternative sources of information are
able to provide.
gap is worsened by the highly partisan manner in which the government
media, which has an unsurpassed combined reach to the nation’s population,
cover critical national developments. Their coverage of the Non-Governmental
Organisations Bill, the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA)’s
protest against the Bill and the violent eviction of Porta Farm
settlers clearly illustrates this point. They did not provide fair
or accurate accounts of these issues, merely siding with the authorities.
For example, they overlooked the vague and unconstitutional nature
of the NGO Bill, choosing instead to peddle and magnify the authorities’
assertions that the proposed law is a justifiable instrument to
rein in rebellious non-governmental organisations colluding with
the West to effect regime change in the country.
It is no wonder
that these media completely ignored the NCA demonstration against
the Bill and its long-standing demands for a new constitution. The
private media however, was categorical in condemning the Bill. They
quoted both local and regional civic organisations pointing out
that, contrary to government claims, the Bill was yet another instrument
calculated to further strip Zimbabweans of their civic liberties.
But the government
media suffocated these opinions. For example, none of the 12 stories
carried by ZBC on the Bill gave any meaningful attention to alternative
voices. Instead, they were all pro-government campaigns on the purported
virtues of the Bill, which they claimed, was to "help
protect Zimbabwe’s sovereignty from deviant organisations"who
were being used by " Britain and its allies",
ZTV (30/8, 6pm) and The Herald (1/9).
To further justify
this contentious Bill, the stories then used mostly baseless accusations
against those targeted by the Bill as exemplified by ZTV (30/8,8pm),
The Herald (31/8 and 1/9) and The Sunday Mail
(5/9). One such unverified claim was made by ZANU PF MP Joram Gumbo
whom ZTV (30/8, pm) quoted as telling Parliament that the need to
legally empower government to police the activities of NGOs could
not be greater as he had "witnessed food bags with messages,
"Vote for MDC", being doled out to needy communities
in his constituency by some NGOs.
Similarly, The Sunday Mail (5/9)’s African Focus column,
written by Tafataona Mahoso, claimed that the US and UK propaganda
directed against "ZANU PF and government of Zimbabwe"
was being "smuggled through the churches"
with the "short term purpose" of preventing
"Christians from voting for Zanu PF" in
next year’s elections.
by the government media to whip public opinion into line with that
of government resulted in them deliberately choking off alternative
views on the matter. ZTV (30/8,8pm) for instance smothered MDC MP
Thoko Khupe’ s concerns that government’s plans to legislate the
Bill "came at a wrong time in terms of the economy as
we rely much on these donors for basic needs of our communities".
Instead, its reporter, Reuben Barwe, lashed out at the perceived
evils of the NGOs, including claiming, misleadingly, that British
Prime Minister Tony Blair had confirmed in his country’s Parliament
that besides the MDC, his government was also working with "NGOs
to achieve regime change" inthe country.
It was this blatant attempt by the government media to justify the
systematic erosion of the citizenry’s rights through bad laws that
saw them turn a blind eye to the NCA demonstration against the NGOs
Bill and the manner in which the police crushed it.
This only appeared
in the private media. They depicted the heavy-handed way in which
the police blocked the demonstration and resulted in the arrest
of more than 30 activists. The law enforcement agency had reportedly
refused to grant the organisation permission to hold the marches.
In fact, SW Radio Africa (1/9) exposed the police’s determination
to frustrate the demo before it even began. It quoted NCA chairman
Lovemore Madhuku saying that of those arrested, "nearly
half of them were picked up from the organisation’s offices in Eastlea
before the demonstration had started." And because
the police would not allow the NCA to exercise its democratic right
to demonstrate peacefully against the NGO Bill, the organisation
was only able to hand a petition to the South African embassy in
Harare asking their government "for help in pressuring
Harare to abandon the legislation", Studio 7 (1/9).
The organisation told the station that the Bill was "a
piece of madness in which the government seeks to take away people’
s rights and freedoms" adding that they hoped President
Mugabe will also "revoke oppressive laws like AIPPA
and POSA as well if approached by SADC members."
quoted by private radio stations concurred. SW Radio Africa (30/8)
for example reported the local Catholic Church as planning to meet
President Mugabe and try to persuade him to drop the Bill because
as Studio 7 (1/9) noted, the proposed law had "caused
an outcry especially among churches who say their humanitarian work
that include feeding schemes will be curtailed." The
following day Studio 7 reported that the South African Non-Governmental
Council (SANGCO) had also expressed its disapproval of the Bill.
Zimbabwe Election Support Network’s Reginald Matchaba-Hove was also
quoted saying the planned legislation would affect the conduct of
next year’s elections. He said: "…the Bill will impact
negatively on the participation of civil society and other democratic
forces in the forthcoming elections…if the Bill is passed as it
is, it will nullify a lot of the important additions which may have
come through the proposed electoral reform." Matchaba-Hove’s
concerns seemed to validate some of the reasons the MDC gave for
its conditional boycott of future elections. But the government
media still refused to view the opposition’s concerns as legitimate.
Instead, they continued to vilify the MDC for its election boycott
stance (Power FM, 30/8, 8pm; ZTV, 3/9, 8pm; Radio Zimbabwe 3/9,
8pm; and the Chronicle (3/9).
some of the government media’s blinkered journalism seemed to have
rubbed off onto The Financial Gazette (2/9). The private
weekly ran a vitriolic, speculative and poorly informed comment
on the MDC’s withdrawal from the country’s elections. Describing
the opposition’s move as indicative of the "spoilt brat
mentality" of the party, the paper claimed that the
MDC’s decision exposed "the opposition party’s birthmark
of Zimbabwe politics – intolerance and hatred for compromise."
Conveniently ignoring contents of the recently adopted
SADC protocol on elections, the comment questioned why the MDC was
seemingly preoccupied with the adoption of the SADC Charter and
"non-committal on the need for a new constitution, freedom
of the press, the accountability of executive power to legislative
power and the permission to form trade unions without hindrance
Notably, documented evidence shows that the MDC’s electoral demands
encompass these issues. Besides, the SADC Charter also deals with
almost all of them. The paper’s CZ’s Notebook column also
berated the MDC being "founded on the basis of foolishness",
because its creators had "nothing in common at all"
and their "nexus" was hatred for President
But as the paper
and the government media castigated the MDC for demanding that government
restores the civic and political liberties of the nation, other
private media were questioning government’s commitment to the rule
of law after it disobeyed a High Court Order barring it from evicting
Porta Farm residents. SW Radio Africa (2/9), TheDailyMirror,
ZimbabweIndependent (3/9) and Standard reported
on the development. In addition, the Independent and Standard
also revealed that the police had arrested two human rights activists
who had gone to assess the situation at the farm, for allegedly
mobilising the settlers to resist government orders to vacate the
farm. The government media censored this aspect in their sanitised
reports on the Porta Farm debacle.
Meanwhile, the government media’s spirited efforts to gloss over
the repression of the citizenry that the private media have continued
to expose manifested itself in a blasphemous opinion piece in The
Herald (1/9). The article, written by Owen Matamisa, claimed
that President Mugabe was "on the throne by divine appointment"
and that criticising him "will not yield results".
Matamisa then dismissed the essence of elections and democracy in
the country saying, "God is not so much into voting
but prayer". He thus called on Zimbabweans to pray
for "Prophet" President Mugabe, saying
this "will result in God’s blessings sweeping across
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