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International relations, censorship and poor news selection
Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ)
Weekly Media Update 2007-6
Monday February 12th 2007 – Sunday February 18th 2007

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 international community.

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.

These papers 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 summit.

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.

Instead, the 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”.  

The Herald (17/2) also reported Mugabe making similar observations.

The determination 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.

Although their voice distribution appeared diverse as shown in Fig 1, it belied the lopsided manner in which they treated the matter.

Fig 1.Voice distribution in the government Press


Foreign dignitaries











For example, 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.

The private 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.

However, the 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 hardships.

The arrests 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.

For example, 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 farmers.”

The allegations of corruption were simply carried as a footnote and left unexplored.

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