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relations, censorship and poor news selection
Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ)
Media Update 2007-6
Monday February 12th 2007 – Sunday February 18th
THIS week the
government papers tried to gloss over the country’s pariah status
in the 16 stories they carried on Zimbabwe’s relations with the
This was illustrated
by the propagandist manner in which they covered France’s decision
to exclude President Mugabe from the Franco-African Summit and the
frosty relations between Zimbabwe and the rest of the western world.
either gave the impression that Zimbabwe enjoyed cordial relations
with the international community or – when it appeared otherwise
– blamed Zimbabwe’s isolation on Britain.
They also depicted
the government’s diplomatic initiatives as having divided the EU
into two factions with one group, comprising France and Portugal,
maintaining close relations with Zimbabwe and the other, led by
Britain, opposing such cooperation.
It was in this
context that The Herald (14 & 15/2) failed to reconcile
Foreign Affairs Secretary Joey Bimha’s assertions that some EU countries
were beginning to “understand” the nature of the problem
as “a bilateral issue between Zimbabwe and Britain over land
reform” with France’s refusal to invite Mugabe to its Franco-African
As a result,
there was no attempt to investigate the reasons why Mugabe was unwelcome
at the summit or to question the silence on the matter emanating
from other African countries.
government papers simply resorted to regurgitating official pronouncements
that sought to dismiss the summit as an inconsequential vestige
of colonialism. The Herald (15/2), for example, claimed that
it was “not proper for African leaders to troop to Europe
at the behest of one head of state like little children as it revokes
memories of the colonial view that Africans are perpetual minors”.
(17/2) also reported Mugabe making similar observations.
of government papers to project Zimbabwe’s problems as solely emanating
from British machinations against the country reached absurd levels
in The Sunday Mail (18/2). The paper portrayed the widespread
labour unrest among civil servants and general discontent over the
country’s economic hardships as part of the British government’s
plan for “galvanising the regime change lobby in Zimbabwe
under a new final push campaign”.
Not a shred
of evidence was provided to support this conspiracy theory.
In fact, while
the official papers relied on unnamed sources to perpetuate such
propaganda, they failed to seek comment from Britain and other members
of the EU.
voice distribution appeared diverse as shown in Fig 1, it belied
the lopsided manner in which they treated the matter.
1.Voice distribution in the government Press
the foreign voices the papers cited were those that appeared to
be making favourable remarks on Zimbabwe. The Herald (13/2),
for example, merely gave front-page prominence to visiting Greek
Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandra and Africa Pope Theodoror II’s meeting
with President Mugabe where he described Zimbabwe as having “great
potential for success” without giving the slightest hint
to what his brief was.
Except for the
Mirror stable, which replicated the government media’s stance, the
rest of the private media were more forthright on Zimbabwe’s isolation
in the 17 stories they carried. Of these 10 appeared in the private
Press and seven in the private electronic media.
Not only did
they interpret France’s decision to snub Mugabe as signifying a
change in its approach to Zimbabwe, but they also provided possible
reasons behind the development. The Financial Gazette (15/2),
for instance, quoted an unnamed government official identifying
them as “longstanding European demands for Zimbabwe to commit
itself to key democratic reforms, including internal dialogue, free
elections and the repeal of repressive legislation.”
media also sought comment from independent observers, government
and French officials. For example, contrary to the impression created
by the government Press that France was advocating the relaxation
of targeted sanctions against the ruling elite, the Zimbabwe
Independent (16/2) cited Deputy French ambassador to Zimbabwe
Stephane Toulet claiming his country was in “full support”
of the EU embargo.
private media also failed to seek opinions of SADC and the AU on
the matter. The Gazette reported Cape Verde as the only country
protesting Mugabe’s exclusion.
While the rest
of the media reported on France’s decision not to invite Mugabe
to the France-Africa summit, ZBC ignored the matter altogether.
Instead, it gave prominence to the visit by Theodore II, which it
used to paper over Zimbabwe’s isolation.
ZTV and Spot
FM (12/2, 8pm), for example, simplistically reported his praise
for Zimbabwe as a “beautiful country with beautiful people”
as implying his full support of government.
But while the
stations gave prominence to such mundane events, they buried news
of a record rise in inflation and the imminent hike in transport
fares in the same bulletins.
Such poor news
management was not isolated.
The next day,
ZTV (13/2, 8pm) led with Vice-President Mujuru’s condolence message
to the Tambo family on the death of South Africa’s anti-apartheid
heroine Adelaide Tambo but failed to report on the arrest and assault
of Women of Zimbabwe Arise activists protesting against economic
and the rise in inflation were given more space in the private electronic
media (12 & 13/2), which interpreted the developments as indicative
of the country’s worsening political and economic crises.
Apart from censoring
important stories, ZBC drowned pertinent revelations in its news
stories with routine official pronouncements.
ZTV (12/02, 8pm) muted allegations of corruption by “some
(landless) people” who were “allowed” to
“buy fertiliser at the (Grain Marketing Board) GMB for re-sale on
[the] black market at the expense of genuine farmers” with
Mashonaland East governor Ray Kaukonde’s “appeal” to
the authorities to “work together and serve the interests
of corruption were simply carried as a footnote and left unexplored.
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