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Governance and Human rights Conspiracies
Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ)
Extracted from Weekly Media Update 2004-41
Monday October 11th - Sunday October 17th 2004

THE government-controlled media’s role as propaganda tools of the ruling ZANU PF was reconfirmed this week by the way they churned conspiracies to divert attention from Africa’s criticism of government’s poor governance record.

The web of conspiracies, premised on government’s anti-West rhetoric, followed fresh accusations of bad governance against Harare contained in a United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) report tabled in Ethiopia recently during the Fourth African Development Forum.

Instead of establishing the veracity of the report, the public media sought to either discredit those who compiled the report or the manner in which it was presented in Ethiopia. As a result, none of the official media’s stories on the matter gave information on the contents of the report and how it was compiled.

This was exemplified by reports carried by The Herald (13, 14 and 15/10), ZTV (13/10, 6pm and 8pm), Radio Zimbabwe (13/10, 8pm) and Power FM (14/10, 6am), which were one-sided accounts of government officials or their supporters criticising the manner in which the UNECA report was tabled.

The Herald’s (13/10) Anti-Zim report blasted, for instance, merely reported the Zimbabwean delegation to the Fourth African Development Forum led by Professor Jonathan Moyo as having launched a "scathing attack" on the report’s claims that "there was lack of good governance in Zimbabwe".

The paper claimed that the Zimbabwe delegation was unhappy with the way it was "ambushed" with the report as it only became aware of it in the meeting. Moyo was cited as saying ideally the report should have been handed to the delegates at registration "ahead of its oral presentation".

Instead of analysing the contents of the report the story then degenerated into a profile of Moyo’s heroics in which he was depicted as having humiliated Professor Georges Nzongola, who chaired the session when the report was tabled, and UNECA executive secretary Dr K. Y. Amaoko, over the matter.

According to the paper "the shaken Prof Nzongola and Dr Amaoko went on to give unconvincing responses, limply adding on that there was still time to have more contributions on the matter".

In order to obfuscate the veracity of the allegations of bad governance, The Herald carried two stories, Anti-Zim report: UN body admits erring (14/10) and UN team admits bungling four other reports (15/10). The stories sought to divert attention to the methodologies used to compile the report and the procedure used in presenting it.

However, The Herald quoted a UNECA official rightly emphasising on the contents of the report and not mere procedures. The unnamed UNECA official reportedly told The Herald (14/10) that he did not think that taking the report to all stakeholders " would have made any difference" while another unnamed UNECA official told the next edition of the paper (15/10) that the commission had treated Zimbabwe the same way it had treated four other countries.

The private media questioned the Zimbabwe delegation’s complaints.

The Zimbabwe Independent (15/10), for example, noted: "We did not hear many complaints by other countries mentioned in bad light in the report except Kenya, which argued that it was in fact doing more than most African countries to fight corruption".

In fact, though The Herald (14 15/10) maintained that government had no knowledge of the report that was compiled by the Zimbabwe chapter of the Southern African Political and Economic Series (SAPES), The Daily Mirror (14/10) and its sister paper, the Sunday Mirror (17/10), carried statements by SAPES rebutting these claims.

For example, The Daily Mirror reported SAPES stating that contrary to assertions in the state-controlled media, government was aware of the report as the organisation had presented it to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs prior to the Ethiopia meeting. SAPES also stated that at least ten government ministries were consulted during its compilation.

The Sunday Mirror concurred. Its Behind the Words column observed that government claims that it not even seen the report smelt of "a rotting fish" and was a familiar "albeit escapist story".

The government media skirted this issue. Instead, The Herald (15/10) created even more confusion on the matter when it quoted senior press secretary in the Information Ministry Joseph Neusu seemingly backtracking on government’s claims that SAPES was behind the compilation of the report.

Responding to SAPES’ claims, Neusu argued that there were two reports: SAPES Trust’s Monitoring Progress Towards Good Governance in Zimbabwe and UNECA’s Striving for Good Governance in Africa, a narrative summary of 28 African country reports.

He thus asserted that the Mirror "had failed to understand the fundamental differences between the two reports" because when Moyo spoke about delegates being "ambushed" he was referring to the tabling of the UNECA report.

However, the paper conveniently ignored that it had not made the distinction when it named SAPES as the author of the controversial report in its previous issue (13/10). This prompted the Sunday Mirror to wonder why government was making the "correction" if it had not accused SAPES of compiling the report in the first place.

Just like the Sunday Mirror, The Zimbabwe Independent was not convinced by the authorities’ explanations of what transpired in Ethiopia as reported in the government media. Its comment noted that government had used "the same mantra" at the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa three months ago when Foreign Affairs Minister opposed the tabling of a report by the African Commission on Human and People’s rights on the hollow grounds that the government had not seen it prior to the meeting.

Said the paper: "This now appears to be the official line to avoid embarrassing truths", adding "but this will not cleanse Zimbabwe of the bad boy image it has earned over the years courtesy of poor governance and economic mismanagement."

In fact, the paper further observed that despite the furore created in government circles by the presentation of the report the nation still did not know what Zimbabwe was "accused of or what Moyo and his team were mad about".

This certainly rang true of the media’s coverage of the issue: both the private and government media are yet to fully reveal the contents of the report to their audiences. A glimpse of the findings were nonetheless revealed in The Financial Gazette (14/10), which reported Zimbabwe as having been chastised along with Chad, Kenya, Malawi and Ethiopia of lack of commitment "to respect and implement the rule of law" in their countries.

But the government media gave a conspiracy twist to the report and used it as a springboard to recite their predictable accusations against the West.

For example, ZTV (13/10, 6pm) reported "analysts" Claude Maredza and William Nhara as urging Zimbabweans "to remain united at a time when Zimbabwe’s image is being tarnished by the West…trying to effect regime change", a sentiment shared by Radio Zimbabwe (13/10, 8pm), which also cited "experts" as alleging that "the West is damning the country at several international fora".

But while the government media tried to divert attention from government’s shortcomings by blaming the country’s crises on the West, events on the ground pointed to the contrary.

For example, SW Radio Africa and Studio 7 reported a total of nine reports of human rights violations or harassment of government’s perceived enemies in the country. Of the nine reports, state agents were implicated in seven while the rest implicated ZANU PF militia.

However the government media ignored these stories choosing rather to carry several stories that named Bulawayo Archbishop Pius Ncube, NGOs, the MDC, "certain sections of the apartheid Press", Britain, the USA, eminent figures such as South Africa’s Desmond Tutu, SA’s opposition leader Tony Leon and even the UN as central characters in the alleged pursuit to effect regime change in the country.

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