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UN envoy's visit
Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ)
Extracted from Weekly Media Update 2005-47
Monday December 5th – Sunday December 11th 2005

THE government media’s reluctance to openly discuss issues that reflect badly on government was illustrated by their lop-sided coverage of the recent visit by UN envoy Jan Egeland to assess the humanitarian crisis triggered by Operation Murambatsvina.

Almost all their 34 stories (ZBH [23] and official Press [11]) on the matter largely censored Egeland’s critical remarks on the humanitarian situation in the country and passively amplified the authorities’ attacks on the envoy, whom they portrayed as part of Western machinations to demonise Zimbabwe.

As the envoy began his work, The Herald and Chronicle (5/12) adopted pre-emptive positions on his mission by simplistically projecting it as being carried out to supersede an earlier "one-sided damning" assessment by the UN’s Anna Tibaijuka.

The papers also gave the impression that the visit follows government’s "reservations" over Tibaijuka’s report, which President Mugabe relayed to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who obliged by sanctioning a follow-up evaluation by Egeland.

The next day, the Chronicle sought to influence Egeland into making favourable findings on Murambatsvina by creating the impression that any critical comments on Zimbabwe can never be independent but driven by what it portrays as the West’s crusade against Harare.

Said the paper: "We trust and hope that he (Egeland) will execute his mission with an open mind and won’t be blinkered by political machinations of Britain and the United States – two countries that are eager to have Harare censured for alleged human rights violations".

It then tried to promote Murambatsvina saying it was not a "callous exercise but a well thought out operation, which has successfully rid the country’s towns and cities of illegal settlements and activities", adding that the "massive housing" programme, Operation Garikai, had resulted in "thousands of people getting accommodation".

But neither the paper (7/12) nor The Herald of the same day wondered why government was keen on the UN’s provision of "permanent" structures for Murambatsvina victims if Garikai was such a success.

When it emerged that Egeland had disagreed with Mugabe over tents the UN intended to provide for Murambatsvina victims, ZTV (6/12, 8pm) tried to criminalise Egeland’s meetings with civic society representatives by portraying the envoy as insincere in his dealings. It gave the notion that Egeland had breached parametres of his visit by holding "private marathon meetings" with church leaders "instead of touring government projects in Cowdray Park" in Bulawayo.

The Chronicle (7/12) carried a similar report saying that while Egeland’s meeting with Matabeleland North Governor Thokozile Mathuthu was open to the Press, he insisted on a "private meeting" with church leaders. By the end of the week, the government and the papers they control became even more hostile to Egeland following the envoy’s critical comments on the humanitarian effects of Murambatsvina.

ZBH (9/12, 6 & 8pm), The Herald and Chronicle (10/12) passively reported President Mugabe castigating Egeland as a "hypocrite and liar" and threatening to bar further visits by envoys who are not the UN Secretary-General’s "own" but "agents of the British".

The two official dailies further quoted Mugabe saying, like Tibaijuka, Egeland had deviated from his humanitarian mission to pursue a political agenda and pretended to "share our views" only to say "nasty things about us" when he left the country.

ZANU PF Secretary for Information Nathan Shamuyarira amplified Mugabe’s position on ZBH (11/12, 6 & 8pm) adding that Egeland had failed to "stick to the truth regarding his visit to Zimbabwe" but "deliberately provided wrong figures that are at variance with those of the UN agencies that are in Zimbabwe".

There was no discussion on the figures Shamuyarira was referring to or attempts to apprise ZBH audiences on what exactly Egeland had said.

Neither did the government media verify or balance Mugabe’s allegations. Instead, the official Press carried 14 reports that sought to give a favourable image of the country, including the portrayal of Garikai as a success. The partisan manner in which the official media handled the topic was reflected by their failure to balance official comments with independent views. See Figs 1 and 2.

Fig 1. Voice distribution on ZBH

Zanu PF

Robert Mugabe

Egeland

Alternative

6

6

11

0

Notably, although Egeland was given more space, his quotes were heavily edited to give only a sanitized picture of the situation.

Fig 2. Voice distribution in the government Press

Govt

Foreign

Alternative

Professional

6

7

6

1

Although the sourcing pattern of the government Press appeared balanced, nearly all the alternative voices, including Egeland’s, were quoted in the context of giving a positive image of government’s urban clearances.

In contrast, the private media were more professional in their approach as they clearly reported the envoy’s concerns on the humanitarian crisis and sought divergent views in the 24 stories they carried (private stations [12] and private Press [12]) on the subject.

For example, the private stations (6 & 7/12) and The Daily Mirror (7/12) gave clear coverage of the disagreements between Egeland and Mugabe on the provision of shelter to Murambatsvina victims.

The Financial Gazette (8/12), Zimbabwe Independent (9/12) and The Standard (11/12) also gave Egeland and other alternative voices greater space to articulate their views as captured in Fig 3.

Fig 3 Voice distribution in the private Press

Govt

Foreign dignitaries

Alternative

Professional

6

10

6

1

For example, while the government media censored Egeland’s unflattering comments on Murambatsvina, including his endorsement of Tibaijuka’s findings, SW Radio Africa, Studio 7 (8/12), the Gazette, the Independent and The Standard reported openly on the issue.

Studio 7 and the Independent reported that Egeland viewed the situation in Zimbabwe as not only "very serious" and requiring the speedy implementation of Tibaijuka’s recommendations, but that it was now a "meltdown".

The Gazette agreed, noting that contrary to The Herald, Chronicle and The Daily Mirror (10/12) reports, which passively cited Mugabe as saying Egeland had waited until he was out of the country to say "nasty" things about government, he had actually issued his stinging criticism of Murambatsvina "on Zimbabwean soil". In addition, the paper reported Egeland as revealing that government had "confessed to messing up" its demolition blitz although he declined to name the government officials.

SW Radio Africa (7/12) and The Standard revealed that security agents had unsuccessfully tried to bar Egeland from getting first hand information on the disastrous effects of Murambatsvina. The weekly reported that the government agents had "repeatedly tried to gatecrash the private meetings but found UN security officers uncompromising".

Although the Chronicle (7 & 10/12) made reference to the matter, it only used the incident to reinforce its notion that the envoy was engaged in clandestine meetings during his visit to Bulawayo.

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