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Conspiracies and the information gap
Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ)
Extracted from Weekly Media Update 2007-15
Monday April 16th 2007 - Sunday April 22nd 2007

THIS week the government papers focussed on promoting unsubstantiated conspiracies that projected the authorities as victims of the West's machinations to 'illegally' replace them with a puppet government. For example, they carried 28 stories, which simply criminalised basic freedoms of expression such as criticism of government misrule and calls for regime change by the West and local civic and religious bodies.

The Chronicle (16/4) and The Herald (17/4), for example, passively reported ZANU PF chairman John Nkomo accusing Britain and the US of "creating an unAfrican culture" by giving money to NGOs to "create disturbances in the country" without challenging him to provide evidence or explain the 'unAfrican' nature of the funding. Instead, the Chronicle merely reported Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu justifying government's decision to deregister local NGOs on the basis of a recent US report revealing that it was working with opposition and civic groups to promote democracy in the country as evidence of Western machinations to effect 'illegal' regime change.

It was in this light, Ndlovu said, that the authorities were severing ties with the State University of New York (Suny) (which was funding parliamentary reform programmes under USAid) because government wanted "to tighten screws on clandestine political activities involving NGOs, which are meddling in the politics of Zimbabwe".

These claims went unverified. Neither were the exact details of the report or the context in which it was released given.

The government papers carried 13 editorials and opinion pieces that simply amplified official allegations of conspiracies by the West and NGOs, whose criticism of government's policy shortcomings were presented as unwarranted. Examples were The Herald articles; US agenda against Zim exposed (16/4); Land behind West's hate campaign (17/4) and Racism behind Britain's anti-Zimbabwe campaign (18/4).

The government papers' lopsided coverage of the subject was mirrored by their sourcing pattern. Almost all those quoted basically blamed the alleged conspiracies as being responsible for the country's problems.

Fig. 1 Voice distribution in the government Press

Mugabe &Govt Zanu PF Foreign




Ordinary people
45 11 7 2 1 1 2

The private Press ignored the conspiracy theories and carried 44 stories that exposed the illegal nature of some of the government's policy pronouncements; the continued crackdown on the opposition; the ZANU PF succession debate; updates on SA President Thabo Mbeki's mediation efforts and the expansion of the European Union's targeted sanctions list.

For instance, the Zimbabwe Independent (21/4) quoted NGOs' representative body NANGO, dismissing government's cancellation of NGOs' operating licences as "unconstitutional and illegal". The move, NANGO noted, was in violation of Section 10 of the Private and Voluntary Organisations Act, which stipulates that a "ministerial board" can only "cancel registration" after "statutory procedures have been fulfilled". And contrary to the notion created by the official media, the Independent and The Financial Gazette (20/4) viewed government's decision to terminate its relationship with Suny as aimed at weakening the Parliamentary Portfolio Committees, which were "becoming too critical of government policies."

The private electronic media also carried several stories highlighting the same issues.

The reports formed part of the 41 stories (private papers [9] and the private electronic media [32]) carried on human rights abuses perpetrated by security agents against MDC and Women of Zimbabwe Arise activists. The abuses included arrests, abductions, beatings and torture.

In fact, it was against the deteriorating human rights situation that the EU announced the addition of five more ministers to its targeted sanctions list (Studio 7 19/4, New Zimbabwe 20/4, the Gazette and Independent). The government papers ignored this development, preferring to present a misleading notion that the EU was relaxing its tough stance on Zimbabwe, while ZBC ignored the issues altogether.

The private papers' wide coverage of the country's political developments was reflected by their diverse sourcing pattern as shown in Fig 2.

Fig. 2 Voice distribution in the private Press

Govt Police Alternative Lawyer ZANU PF MDC Foreign Unnamed Business Ordinary people
3 4 8 6 2 11 12 15 1 5

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