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Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ)
Extracted from Weekly Media Update 2004-39
Monday September 27th – October 3rd 2004
effects of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act
(AIPPA), which has been so effectively used to muzzle alternative
sources of information, have resulted in the flow and quality of
information available to Zimbabweans being seriously compromised.
This was clearly
illustrated by the manner in which the government-controlled media
either ignored or superficially covered the continuing curtailment
of citizens’ rights thereby misinforming most Zimbabweans, who for
lack of alternatives, now rely on them for information. It was not
surprising therefore that out of the 20 stories on human rights
abuses carried in the media during the week, only five of them appeared
in the official media - and these were all biased against the victims
of the rights violations.
private Press performed better in this regard, their effectiveness
in exposing such issues were compromised by the fact that they are
mostly weekly niche market sources of information, and as a result,
are unable to keep Zimbabweans updated on daily events.
private radio stations, Studio 7 and SW Radio Africa, were able
to air almost daily updates of the abuses they too could not effectively
fill this information gap due to accessibility difficulties.
many Zimbabweans remained ignorant of the circumstances leading
to the Women Of Zimbabwe Arise’s (WOZA) demonstration against government’s
proposed NGO Bill and their subsequent arrest and detention.
despite the fact that WOZA members had been demonstrating against
the NGO Bill for more than a week, there was virtually no news in
the mainstream media on the protest, whose main feature was an unprecedented
440 km march from Bulawayo to Harare.
The issue only
got prominence after the arrest of protestors, who were on their
last lap of the march. Even then, the government media’s coverage
of the women’s arrests were prejudiced against them as their stories,
as exemplified by ZTV (28/9, 8pm), Radio Zimbabwe (29/9, 6am), Power
FM (29/9, 6am and 3/10, 6am) and The Herald (30/9), lacked
fairness and balance.
The Herald’s one-off report, buried on page four, ignored
the context of the march thereby giving the misleading impression
that the women were yet to demonstrate, saying they were arrested
"while marching to Harare where they had intended to
carry out their illegal demonstration".
The paper and
the State broadcaster refused to view the arrests as yet another
example of the authorities’ clampdown on dissent. Instead, they
quoted the police apparently justifying the arrests, saying the
women had "allegedly misled them by claiming to be church
members" and their "on-the-spot search"
discovered demonstration materials, which included banners and pamphlets.
Wayne Bvudzijena was cited as saying that the incident "was
not the first time WOZA had held an illegal demonstration".
No attempt was
made to question the constitutionality of the Public Order and Security
Act (POSA), which together with other repressive laws, have been
selectively used by the police to deprive Zimbabweans of their constitutional
(28/9, 8pm) and Power FM (29/9, 6am) seemed to find fault with the
fact that WOZA was "an opposition-aligned organisation"
that was also "associated with well-known activist and
critic of the land reform programme, Jenni Williams".
did not explain whether being members of the opposition or critics
of government constituted a crime under Zimbabwean laws.
A more coherent
coverage of the issue could only be found in the private media.
The Daily Mirror (29/9 and 1/10), Studio 7 and SW Radio Africa
(1/10), all furnished their audiences with the proper context of
the protest against the NGO Bill, largely viewed by observers as
a repugnant piece of legislation meant to criminalize the social
welfare activities of civic society. Follow-up stories on the arrests
of the WOZA activists appeared in The Zimbabwe Independent
(1/10) and The Standard (3/10).
a background to the WOZA march, Studio 7 and SW Radio Africa also
continued to expose the unjustified arrests of the activists following
their discharge by the courts because they had no case to answer.
SW Radio Africa
(1/10) quoted the women’s lawyer, Andrew Makoni, saying that although
the police charged his clients for "possibly disturbing
the peace under POSA", the charge could not be sustained
because the court could not find any evidence on the use of force
by the women during their march.
And unlike the
government media, the station (29/9) cited the International Bar
Association, individual commentators and "NGOs representing
the interests of the legal profession worldwide" as
having "condemned" the police’s abuse and
treatment of WOZA activists.
the station quoted lawyer Gugulethu Moyo comparing the protesters’
ordeal with the treatment meted out to many other Zimbabweans who
dared speak out against government. As a result, she said, there
had been many innocent civilians who had been arrested and released
without charge by the police after being interrogated and assaulted,
while the police, in turn, rake in millions of dollars from admission-of-guilt
fines by people who have not committed any crime.
"What we are most concerned about is the use or abuse of police
powers to stifle and attack people’s rights…"
that this abuse was more defined by the way the police punished
people they know they cannot secure conviction in the courts by
ensuring that they detained them in police custody for maximum periods.
The plight of
WOZA activists was not the only focus of the independent media.
They also covered various other rights abuses including alleged
ZANU PF harassment of MDC members in Bindura, Bulawayo and Manicaland,
as reported by SW Radio Africa (27/9, 30/9 and 1/10) and The
Standard; and the police’s arrest of four members of the Institute
of Democracy in South Africa (IDASA), The Zimbabwe
The four IDASA
members, who the Independent reported as having been arrested
for allegedly facilitating an inter-denominational meeting that
was not "cleared by the police", were however
later released without charge.
media turned a blind eye to these issues, including a National Constitutional
Assembly demonstration against the controversial NGO Bill. The event
was only highlighted by SW Radio Africa and Studio 7 (27/9) and
The Daily Mirror (28/9).
government’s use of POSA to crush dissent, The Independent
also exposed its continued use of the equally repressive AIPPA to
try to gag the remaining alternative sources of news.
that barely a week after its reporters had been arrested on charges
of violating AIPPA, the police had also summoned the editor of its
sister paper, The Standard, to answer charges arising
from a story it published last February alleging that Pastor Admire
Kasi had a license to sell beer.
was also ordered by the government-appointed Media and Information
Commission (MIC) to surrender the negative of an "extremely
mischievous" photo of President Mugabe hitching up
his trousers at the Harare Agricultural Show and which the paper
published on its front page at the end of August.
cited MIC as claiming that it had received "numerous"
complaints about the photo, including one from Department of Information,
which complained that the picture represented a "deliberate
denigration of the highest office", which was in line
with the paper’s "editorial disposition that is underpinned
by an anti-Zimbabwe and anti-Mugabe orientation".
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