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Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ)
Weekly Media Update 2005-33
Monday August 29th – Sunday September 4th
media’s status as supine messengers of the authorities was further
affirmed by their coverage of the repressive Constitution of Zimbabwe
Amendment (No 17) Bill. Instead of openly discussing the far-reaching
effects of the Bill, these media simply hailed it, echoing official
claims that it will "bring finality" to
government’s land reforms.
In fact, all
but one of the 41 stories the official media [31 on ZBH and 10 in
the government Press] carried merely regurgitated the authorities’
justification of the Bill without any attempt to balance government’s
perspective with alternative views.
these media examine the full implications of the Bill – now only
awaiting President Mugabe’s assent – on Zimbabweans’ property rights,
freedom of movement, or on their civil and political rights.
Nor did they
analyse the authorities’ abuse of traditional Chiefs and unelected
legislators to bulldoze the Bill through Parliament.
(30/8, 8pm) merely stated that, "the power of numbers
worked in favour of the ruling party as it managed to accrue a two-thirds
majority vote necessary to approve the Bill".
informing its audiences on the circumstances leading to the passage
of the Bill, the station (and Power FM 31/8, 6am) then passively
quoted Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa defending the amendments,
particularly the erosion of the right to contest the seizure of
farm properties in court.
"As you know land rights were owned by 4,000 or so farmers.
We are extinguishing those rights and in place we are creating in
excess of 500,000 individual property rights. So that is revolutionary".
His comment was not subjected to analysis. Instead, ZTV simply accessed
pro-government analysts such as Godwills Masimirembwa and Lovemore
Gijima Msindo to endorse the Bill as a "momentous landmark
in the history of Zimbabwe" that would transform the
constitution to "suit the country’s social, political
and economic environment".
and Chronicle (31/8) followed suit.
They also unquestioningly
quoted Chinamasa telling Parliament that the Constitutional Amendment
"was significant and far-reaching"
because once gazetted, land "would become State property",
without looking at how nationalising land would undermine investor
confidence. Nor did they question the creation of a law that would
not only "extinguish" the constitutional rights of former
white farmers, but of all Zimbabweans.
Like ZBH, the
two government dailies also avoided taking the authorities to task
on their definition of the "agricultural land"
they planned to nationalise or go beyond the reasons proffered in
the Bill justifying restricting freedom of movement of "unpatriotic"
Zimbabweans "deemed to be intent on harming national
In fact, all
the stories the government media carried on the Bill glossed over
the vagueness contained in some of the amendments. As a result,
The Herald (1/9) was unable to interpret the broad and sinister
implications of Amendment 22 of the Constitution, which provides
for the imposition of restrictions on Zimbabweans "in
the national interest, or in the interests of defence, public safety,
public order, public morality, public health, the public interest
or the economic interests of the State".
story narrowly interpreted the amendment as fashioned solely to
refuse to give passports to "people who travel out of
Zimbabwe on demonisation missions".
ZTV (31/8, 8pm)
also carried such myopic interpretations. And to further justify
restrictions on the citizenry’s freedom of movement, the station
passively quoted Chinamasa saying the provision will send a "very
clear signal to our citizens" that they "cannot
travel the width and breadth of the world using Zimbabwean passport
to canvass for the military invasion of Zimbabwe, to lobby for official
and unofficial sanctions against their own people".
Minister Didymus Mutasa concurred saying those who "demonise"
Zimbabwe should not be given passports as they would have turned
themselves into "enemies of the country".
government Press either rehashed or amplified government’s rhetoric
about the alleged nefarious activities of civic organisations and
the MDC in an effort to endorse the authorities’ disregard for citizens’
fundamental constitutional right to freedom of movement.
(1/9), for example, carried two reports in which they tried
to portray MDC MPs David Coltart and Welshman Ncube as being embroiled
in international missions to "paddle (sic) the usual
lies aimed at discrediting the State".
quoted Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga contending, "It
has never been a right to hold a Zimbabwean passport but a privilege
that can be withdrawn once abused." Matonga added that
government’s proposed legislation restricting the movement of Zimbabweans
deemed to be harbouring an intention to harm "national
interests" as "a good law".
manner in which the government media handled the subject was reflected
by their sourcing pattern. See Figs 1 and 2.
Fig 1 Voice
distribution on ZBH
for three foreign voices, all the other sources endorsed the Bill.
The three foreign voices were all of the Australian Ambassador Jon
Sheppard airing his reservations of the amendments. However, ZBH
sought to discredit his views by giving the impression that his
concerns were to be expected since Australia was one of Britain’s
allies who were allegedly demonising Zimbabwe for embarking on its
land reform programme. And the 26 ordinary people quoted reflected
the selectivity with which the broadcaster accessed the opinions
of the public.
Fig 2 Voice
distribution in the government Press
Sunday Mail (4/9) displayed some measure of professionalism.
It balanced government’s perception of the Bill with alternative
comments from MDC chief whip Innocent Gonese, retired High Court
Judge, Justice George Smith, and Ambassador Sheppard, who all expressed
their concerns on the Bill.
however received greater expression in the private media, which
carried 15 stories (Studio 7  and private Press ) on the
Bill. These media recorded several alternative voices, ranging from
political analysts, lawyers, and civic organisations to international
politicians, all roundly condemning the proposed law as a calculated
attack on Zimbabweans’ democratic rights.
One of the analysts,
the Zimbabwe Independent’s columnist, lawyer Alex Magaisa,
noted (2/9) that government’s proposed amendments would convert
the Constitution into "an instrument for control"
and legitimise "arbitrary actions" of the
authorities, thereby further harming the country’s political profile
"and consequently, its economic fortunes".
experts and rights activities expressed similar views on Studio
The tone of
the commentators’ views were reflected in most of the headlines
the private Press carried on the matter such as Attack on Democracy,
(The Financial Gazette, 1/9), ZANU PF shuts key chapter on
sanity, (the Zimbabwe Independent, 2/9) and Someone’s
death wish for Zimbabwe, (The Standard, 4/9).
revealed that Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights was planning to
challenge provisions of the Constitutional Amendment Bill before
the African Commission for Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) because
it "takes away the duties of the (local) courts, violates
property rights and empowers the government to take away passports".
In fact, The
Standard revealed that a few days after the passing of the Constitutional
Amendment, government was already drawing up a list of opposition
politicians and human rights activists who will be banned from travelling
manner in which the private media exposed the gravity of this latest
assault on Zimbabweans’ fundamental rights was reflected in their
attempts to balance official views with independent observation
as illustrated in Fig 3.
Fig 3 Voice
distribution in the private Press
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