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Full extent of the police violence
Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ)
Weekly Media Update 2007-9
Monday March 5th 2007 – Sunday March 11th 2007

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AS the week ended Zimbabweans witnessed a vicious attack on their constitutionally guaranteed freedoms when the police violently stopped a planned civic meeting in Highfield, shot dead an MDC activist and brutally assaulted opposition and civic leaders they had detained.

While all the media reported on the matter, it was only the private radio stations and online news agencies that captured the full extent of the police violence.

The government media either distorted the circumstances leading to the violence that erupted following the foiled meeting or simply presented the police actions as a justifiable response to alleged MDC violence and its disregard for the recently imposed ban on public gatherings.

For example, ZBC (11/3, evening bulletins) and The Herald (12/3) simply drowned their audiences in the police’s one-sided account of events surrounding the aborted civic meeting, which sought to project the police and ordinary members of the public as victims of wanton violence by the opposition.

In fact, these media allowed police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena to present the police as having acted in self-defence against "an unruly mob of some 200 MDC thugs who were using children as shields" when they shot dead an MDC youth.

No attempt was made to independently corroborate Bvudzijena’s claims or seek comment from the Save Zimbabwe Campaign, organizers of the gathering.

A clearer version of the story appeared in several private electronic media (11&12/3).

For instance, not only did they attribute the violence to the police, but also revealed that the arrested MDC leaders, including Morgan Tsvangirai, had been severely beaten up in custody.

The government media initially ignored this and only mentioned it in passing and in the context of the State’s concession that the arrested leaders should be granted access to medical attention during their court appearance (The Herald 13/3).

Apart from exposing the violent suppression of the meeting, the private media carried 11 other incidents of continued rights violations in the country.

These included the arrest of university students, WOZA and NCA activists, the barring of meetings organized by civic bodies and the petrol bombing of homes belonging to MDC officials by suspected security agents.

As a result of the country’s repressive media laws that have muzzled the activities of the mainstream private media, only those able to access the niche market private media were informed about such rights violations, which the dominant government media continue to suppress.

Zimbabwe’s information drought, worsened during the week with news that the Zimbabwe Mirror Newspapers Group had ‘suspended’ the publication of its two titles The Daily Mirror and The Sunday Mirror citing operational problems (The Herald and the Zimbabwe Independent, 9/3).

However, the Independent linked the ‘temporary’ closure of the papers to their takeover by the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), which the weekly claimed had failed to "turn the (group) into a profitable business". Zimbabwe Union of Journalists secretary-general Foster Dongozi echoed similar views adding that it was "government meddling in matters that should be entirely private" that had plunged the Mirror group into problems.

And as this report was being compiled, New (13/3) announced that the board of The Financial Gazette – another paper reportedly taken over by the state security agents – had finally "succumbed to pressure from Zanu PF and the CIO" to fire its Editor-in-Chief Sunsleey Chamunorwa over the paper’s criticism of government policies.

The agency reported "sources" claiming that the CIO had tried on several occasions to have Chamunorwa removed but were blocked by the paper’s alleged main shareholder central bank governor Gideon Gono.

The media rights NGO, MISA (13/3), in its alert on the matter, quoted unnamed sources linking the Media and Information Commission’s delays in renewing the papers’ operating licence to "intense pressure" some "powerful politicians" were exerting to "push the editor out".

The Herald (14/3) avoided such angles and restricted itself to the Gazette board’s vague claims that Chamunorwa had been "suspended" over "legal matters" in a small story the paper carried on the subject.

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