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This article participates on the following special index pages:

  • Senate Elections Results & Index of articles


  • The MDC split and Senatorial elections
    Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ)
    Weekly Media Update 2005-40
    Monday October 17th – Sunday October 23rd 2005

    THE government media continued with their narrow and biased interpretation of the divisions rocking the MDC over participation in the November 26 Senate elections during the week. Almost all 53 stories these media carried (government Press [29] and ZBH [24]) on the matter, used the decision by MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai to overrule his partyís National Executive Councilís 33:31 vote favouring participation in the election to launch a personal attack on him, saying he was undemocratic and dictatorial.

    They simplistically attributed the rift in the opposition to his actions without giving a holistic picture of the problems bedeviling the opposition party. Neither did they critically examine the underlying implications of such divisions on the partyís survival and indeed the countryís struggle for democracy. Rather, Radio Zimbabwe and ZTV (18/10, 8pm) and Power FM (19/10, 8pm) merely castigated Tsvangirai for "failing" to "uphold the principles of democracy, which the party claims to champion" by his rejection of the decision by his partyís executive council.

    ZTV recruited ZANU PF apologists Media and Information Commission chairman Tafataona Mahoso and Herald reporter Caesar Zvayi, who attacked the opposition as "immature".

    Although ZTV reported in the same bulletin that members of the public had expressed "mixed feelings" over Tsvangiraiís decision to boycott the polls, only two of the 15 selected individuals supported the opposition leader, while the rest denounced him for allegedly breaching his partyís constitution and "pleasing his masters", an expression that clearly exposed the sources of their information. But how exactly Tsvangirai was pandering to the whims of his perceived Ďmastersí was not explained.

    ZBHís anti-Tsvangirai coverage was reflected in its sourcing pattern. For example, 16 of the 21 MDC voices quoted on ZBH supported the partyís participation, while only five supported Tsvangirai. In addition, all alternative voices and most of the selected individuals sourced for comment maligned the opposition leader. (See Fig1.)

    Fig 1 Voice distribution on ZBH

    Zanu PF

    MDC

    Govt

    Alternative

    Police

    ZEC

    Ordinary people

    25

    21

    11

    7

    2

    16

    30

    The government papers adopted a similar trend.

    They turned their coverage of the MDC conflict into a personal attack on Tsvangirai, describing him, for example, as a "fake democrat" and a "political nobody" (The Herald 18/10) while reporting approvingly of the MDCís pro-participation faction led by Welshman Ncube, whom The Sunday Mail (23/10) portrayed as "the cool politician" and "the real deal".

    The Herald (22/10) took its anti-Tsvangirai crusade to wildly propagandist extremes in its front page article People vs Tsvangirai. The inflammatory commentary portrayed Tsvangirai as a national villain who had not only wreaked untold suffering on the nation but his party as well. It cited "analysts" calling for the MDC leader to "be made accountable for the crimes he has committed" against Zimbabweans. However, not a single analyst was identified or quoted directly saying these things.

    Instead, The Herald quoted Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga urging Zimbabweans to "organise a mass action against Mr Tsvangirai" whose "disregard of the law is legendary", adding, "most of the challenges that we (Zimbabweans) are facing can be traced to his recklessness".

    The paperís determination to condemn Tsvangirai as a political outcast was reinforced by its publication of a close-up picture of the opposition leaderís face plastered with eight newsflashes of his alleged crimes against the nation. Notably, most of the alleged crimes had either been dismissed by the courts or were largely untested.

    This campaign against the MDC leader resulted in the government papers failing to investigate the circumstances in which Tsvangirai is said to have breached his partyís constitution, threatened his rivals or issued his boycott call. For example, The Herald and Chronicle (20/10) never verified the MDC leaderís claims that the NECís decision to participate in the Senate election was influenced by vote-buying by members of the partyís "top six". They only appeared to be interested in celebrating the partyís conflict by amplifying any criticism that Tsvangiraiís rivals aimed at him.

    Although the government Press carried more MDC voices than any other, (Fig 2) these were mostly from the group advocating participation in the Senate election.

    Fig 2. Voice distribution in the government Press

    MDC

    Zanu PF

    Govt

    ZEC

    Alternative

    53

    7

    7

    7

    5

    While the in-fighting in the MDC presented the government media with a glorious opportunity to denigrate Tsvangirai and his party, they carried 34 stories (government Press [12] and ZBH [22]) that presented a sanitized picture of ZANU PFís preparations for the poll.

    In contrast, the private media adopted a generally professional approach in the 47 stories (private Press [22], Studio 7 [18] and SW Radio Africa [7]) they carried on the damaging divisions within the MDC. These media gave both MDC factions an opportunity to articulate their positions. Thus, the pro-participation groupís argument that the MDC should not surrender political space to Zanu PF by boycotting the poll and Tsvangiraiís contention that contesting the poll was useless as Zimbabweís electoral laws "breed illegitimate outcomes" were reasonably projected. For example, while SW Radio Africa (18/10) quoted Tsvangirai claiming that he had overturned the NECís vote in accordance with the "mandate given to him by Congress", the next night the station reported MDC vice-president Gibson Sibanda giving a different position. Sibanda accused his boss of "breaching party laws and misrepresenting facts".

    The Financial Gazette (20/10), which alone carried seven stories on the matter, revealed in two stories that the rift in the MDC was more than just a fight over the Senate elections. It depicted the current rift as emanating from a year-long power struggle for control of the party between the two factions ahead of the partyís congress next year.

    The story cited a Press statement apparently issued by MDC vice-president Gibson Sibanda, linking Tsvangiraiís "wilful" violation of the MDCís constitution to previous acts of violence against senior national and provincial leaders by party youths.

    Tsvangiraiís spokesman William Bango dismissed the statement saying it was likely a fraud since "another person other than Mr Sibanda himself" had signed it.

    In addition, it cited unnamed MDC insiders chronicling more conspiracies on the alleged origins of the power struggle between Tsvangirai and his rivals.

    The Gazette also provided an illuminating account of what transpired during the MDCís NEC meeting itself. It reported Tsvangirai as having been press-ganged by his lieutenants to conduct a vote on the matter, a development the opposition leader interpreted as meant to "sabotage" and "humiliate" him.

    The Standard (23/10) carried three opinion pieces calling on the MDC to boycott the election, saying it should find other democratic means of bringing about change. Earlier, the Zimbabwe Independent (21/10) questioned Tsvangiraiís boycott calls, saying: "What is there to lose in the Senate poll that the MDC has not already lost in the lower chamber (Parliament)?"

    Figs 3 and 4 show the voice distribution in the private media.

    Fig 3. Sourcing pattern of the private Press

    Zanu PF

    MDC

    Alternative

    ZEC

    Govt

    Other opposition

    Unnamed

    9

    27

    5

    3

    2

    2

    4


    Fig 4. Voice distribution on private radio stations

    Zanu PF

    MDC

    Foreign

    Alternative

    ZEC

    Ordinary people

    2

    22

    2

    13

    1

    2

    Notably, both sections of the media failed to independently verify the constitution of the opposition party and establish the fundamental authority of the MDC.

    The media also hardly carried helpful information on the electoral authoritiesí election preparations. For example, ZBH merely carried 23 stories that passively rehashed the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) announcement that it had embarked on voter education campaigns.

    As a result, there was inadequate information on constituency boundaries, timeframes and measurable outputs of the voter education exercise, and inspection of the votersí roll.

    The dismal manner in which the government media covered this critical component of the poll was best captured by The Herald (22/10), which failed to seek clarity on the impartiality and mandate of the ZECís National Logistics Committee, which includes Public Commission Chairman Mariyawanda Nzuwa (chair), Registrar-General Tobaiwa Mudede, Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri and at least five secretaries of government ministries such as secretary for Information, George Charamba.

    Although the private media also failed to report meaningfully on the administration of the election, Studio 7 (18/10) and SW Radio Africa (21/10) quoted Zimbabwe Election Support Network chairman Reginald Matchaba-Hove accusing the authorities of gerrymandering in order to neutralise MDC strongholds. He alleged on SW Radio Africa that the poll "has already (been) rigged" because Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa "simply came up with the amalgamation of various constituencies" and "more often than not" diluted urban seats with "rural constituencies".

    The government media ignored the issue.

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