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Constitutional repression
Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ)
Weekly Media Update 2005-33
Monday August 29th – Sunday September 4th 2005

THE government 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.

Neither did 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.

Instead, ZTV (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".

Without fully 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.

Said Chinamasa: "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".

The Herald 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 interests".

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".

Rather, the 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".

State Security 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".

Likewise, the 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.

The Herald (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".

It passively 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".

The partisan 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

Govt.

Foreign

Lawyers

Zanu PF

MDC

Ordinary people

8

3

9

9

0

26

Notably, except 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

Government

ZANU PF

MDC

Foreign

Alternative

5

3

2

2

1

Only The 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.

Their views however received greater expression in the private media, which carried 15 stories (Studio 7 [5] and private Press [10]) 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".

Other legal experts and rights activities expressed similar views on Studio 7 (31/8).

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).

The Independent 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 abroad.

The professional 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

Government

ZANU PF

MDC

Alternative

Foreign

3

8

6

7

1

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