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This article participates on the following special index pages:

  • Constitutional Amendment 18 of 2007 - Index of articles, opinion and anaylsis


  • Constitutional Amendment Number 18
    Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ)
    Extracted from Weekly Media Update 2007-37
    Monday September 17th - Sunday September 23th 2007
    September 27, 2007

    Visit the special index of articles, analysis and opinion on Constitutional Amendment 18

    All media failed to coherently clarify the circumstances in which ZANU PF MPs and their MDC counterparts 'unanimously' passed the Constitutional Amendment Number 18 Bill, which proposed significant changes to Zimbabwe's electoral dispensation. This was reflected in their 79 reports on the subject: ZBC (25), government papers (16), private electronic media (21) and private Press (17). Apart from cursorily presenting the development as part of the search for an internal settlement in the country by the SADC-backed mediation efforts of South African President Thabo Mbeki, these media failed to give an informed analysis of the behind-the-scenes manoeuvres that gave birth to the compromise deal.

    As a result, it remained unclear whether the passing of the Bill was merely a pre-condition for the MDC/ZANU PF talks to take off or the first direct outcome of the negotiations. This was especially so as these media projected the parties as still working on the modalities of the talks' agenda.

    Neither was there a comparative analysis on the provisions of the original amendments with the revised ones, nor serious attempts to examine the sanitised halo of political correctness that the ruling party and opposition attached to the development against the political realities in the country. The government media were the main culprits. They simply celebrated the passing of the Bill on the basis that it had the 'unanimous' support of all lawmakers, or gave the impression that it would ease Zimbabwe's political and economic crises. How, remained unexplained.

    Most of the government media reports on the matter were parliamentary updates that paid tribute to the ZANU PF and MDC MPs for showing unity of purpose in agreeing to the amendments. It was in this light that Spot FM (21/9, 8am), for example, passively celebrated the passing of the Bill, saying it demonstrated "togetherness and unity" and political maturity on the part of lawmakers". Earlier, The Herald (19/9) simply cited Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa describing the event as an "historic moment" in the country as Zimbabweans from "both sides of the political divide" had shown commitment to "take charge of their own destiny". The paper also reported MPs from the two MDC formations as saying the development would "foster relations" between their party and ZANU PF and "address the various social and economic challenges facing the country".

    There was no relating these claims to public sentiment or to the situation on the ground, especially as the official media suffocated the "few voices that have condemned" the MDC/ZANU PF compromise deal (The Sunday Mail 23/9). As a result, it did not explore the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA)'s reservations on the amendments or the process that created them. The government media only highlighted the amended provisions of the Bill without seeking independent analysis on their implications. For example ZTV (18/9), Spot FM (21/9,8am) and The Sunday Mail did not explain how the amendments - which include reducing the presidential term from six to five years, harmonise elections and expand the Senate and House of Assembly - would benefit the country or guarantee the holding of free and fair elections.

    In fact, The Sunday Mail missed a great chance to clear the air on the conditions of the compromise during an interview with one of ZANU PF's chief negotiators, Nicholas Goche. Rather than ask him exactly how the deal was struck, the paper's political editor, Munyaradzi Huni, just allowed the minister to divert attention from the crux of the matter with mostly trivial political rhetoric. For example, apart from simply outlining the issues making the agenda for the talks, glorifying his party and the opposition's cordial meetings and blaming outside "interference" for the country's problems, he revealed nothing of significance. Neither was he encouraged to. The reporter actually contributed to the minister's sanitised responses with petty questions such as: "Did you share any jokes during the talks?" Although the government media's sourcing patterns appeared diverse (Figs 1 and 2), their over-reliance on official and pro-government views meant there was very little critical analysis on the subject.

    Fig 1: Voice distribution on ZBC

    Zanu PF
    MDC
    Government
    Alternative
    War veterans
    Ordinary people
    Local government
    12
    6
    13
    4
    4
    9
    2

    Fig 2: Voice distribution in the government Press

    Govt
    MDC
    Zanu PF
    Alternative
    Foreign
    Judiciary
    Lawyers
    12
    9
    2
    2
    2
    1
    1

    Notably, MDC voices, like those of the ruling party, were cited in the context of justifying the Bill's passage. The private electronic media also failed to give a holistic picture on the mechanics of the compromise. They mostly rehashed the MDC and ZANU PF defence of the development. For example, they failed to probe the source of MDC's newly found optimism that the compromise was a 'necessary political risk' and a "gesture of goodwill and acknowledgement of the on-going negotiations with ZANU PF" (ZimOnline (21/9).

    Neither did Studio 7 (22/9) and The Standard (23/9) extract clarity from MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai. For example, The Standard failed to establish whether the passing of the Bill was indeed "academic" as argued by the opposition leader. It quoted him saying his party had endorsed the amendments after SADC had "guaranteed ZANU-PF would not renege on the ongoing dialogue on a new constitution before next year's elections". The exact nature of the guarantee was not mentioned.

    The previous day, Studio 7 quoted Tsvangirai calling his party's collaboration with ZANU PF as the "first step towards the final resolution of the national crisis, a bold and correct decision the party has taken to locate the exit points to the political logjam". But he didn't explain this statement. And while he attributed the negative reaction to the opposition's support for the Bill to the "people's mistrust" of ZANU PF and less than complete information of the Mbeki mediated crisis talks from which the constitutional compromise arose, he did not volunteer any clarifications.

    However, unlike the government media, the private media carried several stories highlighting civic society's displeasure with the amendments, with Zimdaily (20/9) and SW Radio Africa (21/9) reporting National Association for NGO spokesman Fambai Ngirande describing them as a "great betrayal of the people of Zimbabwe". The Financial Gazette (20/9) quoted Crisis Zimbabwe Coalition chairman Arnold Tsunga raising similar sentiments. It cited him accusing ZANU PF and the MDC of tinkering with the Constitution without addressing its fundamental flaws, adding that civic society was "worried by attempts to identify Zimbabwe's problems as an issue that can be resolved by drafting constitutional amendments".

    For example, he claimed that on the day the two parties were "celebrating" the passage of the amendments, state security agents "abducted" trade unionists who had been planning job boycotts against worsening economic conditions.

    The paper and NewZimbabwe.com (20/9) also reported civic society, especially the NCA, as cutting ties with the MDC over its constitutional deal with ZANU PF. Moreover, the private media exposed some shortcomings of the provisions of the amendments. For example, NewZimbabwe.com (20/9) reported NCA chairman and constitutional law expert Lovemore Madhuku criticising the expansion of Parliament, saying it was beyond the capacity and requirement of the country, while the Zimbabwe Independent (21/9) cited analyst Michael Mhike saying the harmonising of all four elections next year would result in chaos.

    The private media's sourcing patterns are shown in Fig 3 and 4.

    Fig 3: Voice distribution in the private electronic media

    Alternative
    Government
    Foreign dignitaries
    MDC
    NCA
    7
    1
    1
    16
    4

    Fig 4: Voice distribution in the private Press

    Govt
    MDC
    Zanu PF
    Alternative
    Foreign diplomat
    Lawyers
    2
    8
    1
    10
    1
    1

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