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Inadequate coverage of news
Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ)
Extracted from Weekly Media Update 2007-38
Monday September 24th - Sunday September 30th 2007
October 04, 2007

The government media failed to adequately inform their audiences on important national developments during the week. These included the passing in Parliament of the Indigenisation and Empowerment Bill, the continued economic slide and labour unrest in the country. The government media's 38 reports on the matter (ZBC [32] and government papers [6]) either censored or downplayed the impact of these developments. Only the private media tried to critically examine these issues in the 49 stories they devoted to the subject: private electronic media (31) and private Press (18).

a) Indigenisation and Empowerment Bill

The government media carried six passive Parliamentary reports on the Bill's passage. Notably, no effort was made to assess the impact of the proposed law on the fundamental issue of property rights and investor confidence in the country. For example, The Herald and Chronicle (27/9) simply announced that the Bill had "sailed" through the House without amendments. However, while The Herald and Chronicle (27/9) captured some of the "heated exchanges" between ruling and opposition MPs over contentious provisions of the Bill, such as its definition of "indigenous people", they did not seek alternative views on the matter.

The government dailies, for example, simply reported Indigenisation and Empowerment Minister, Paul Mangwana, dismissing opposition concerns that the definition was "racist" as it excluded white Zimbabweans from benefiting on the basis that the wording of the Bill "deliberately avoided the use of the word 'black' and 'white'" but "'indigenous Zimbabweans'". It was only the private media that shed light on the implications of the Bill.

Apart from highlighting its racist nature, these media reported analysts and businesses expressing alarm at the Bill's provisions, which they argued would scare away potential investors and force the few remaining companies to leave the country. It was against this backdrop that The Financial Gazette (27/9) reported SA Reserve Bank Governor Tito Mboweni putting the matter into perspective by observing that "the removal of property rights in Zimbabwe has been a source of the country's problems". The paper revealed how government had ignored advice from businesses to settle for a moderate Bill that would, among others, reduce local ownership threshold to 30 percent from the proposed 51 percent. However, the paper and Zimbabwe Independent (28/9) reported Mangwana saying those foreign-owned businesses not happy with the proposed law "can simply go". Zimdaily (27/9) claimed government had started compiling lists of companies to be taken over but did not substantiate its allegations.

b) Labour unrest

The government media blacked out labour unrest in the country, characterised by a go-slow by teachers and health service workers. The closest they came to reporting on the matter was when ZTV (25/9, 6pm) reported Health Deputy Minister Edwin Muguti and Education Permanent Secretary Stephen Mahere calling on government to "come up with attractive packages" and improve "conditions of service to stem the brain drain". Only the private media highlighted the extent of the labour discontent and its negative effects. For example, Studio 7 (24/9), SW Radio Africa and ZimOnline (27/9) and The Standard (30/9) reported on the outbreak of a strike by teachers and non-academic staff over poor working conditions at various council, mission and government schools, which they claimed could be one of the most crippling strikes in the education sector since independence.

c) Shortages

There was little valuable information in the government media on the country's economic meltdown. This week The Herald even inexplicably removed its front-page regular Price Watch Column, used to update its readers on government's gazetted prices of goods and services since the authorities embarked on a price freeze campaign last June.

The Herald's decision coincided with government's relaxation of its price slash campaign that has resulted in the spiralling of commodity prices and the massive fall of the Zimbabwe dollar on the black market, but which the paper turned a blind eye to.

Only The Sunday Mail (30/9) took stock of this development in its lead story: "Price madness back again". However, the paper merely reported the increases in isolation of government's new price increase regime.

The government also failed to examine the causes of persistent water and electricity shortages and their impact on industry and households. Instead, they passively rehashed official assurances that the problems would be solved. For instance, ZTV (25/9, 8pm) quoted Finance Minister Samuel Mumbengegwi and Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono assuring residents in Harare and its satellite towns that the water situation was going to improve. They did not say how and when.

There was equally no clarity as to the causes of the worsened power cuts, especially as they came in the wake of government announcements that the shortages would ease after Mozambique reportedly doubled electricity supplies to Zimbabwe. The private media also failed to give informed coverage on the new spate of price increases. However, they carried several stories highlighting indicators of economic decline, which projected government as having lost control of the economy. In one such story, the Independent reported an unnamed "senior British diplomatic source" as alleging that government's efforts to control prices had "not only backfired" but "completely fractured the supply and production chains behind the retail sector".

Earlier, Studio 7 (25/9) and SW Radio Africa (26/9) attributed price increase to the drastic drop in the value of the Zimbabwe dollar, which they said, "fell ten times since May". The difference in the way the government and private media reported on the issues is exemplified by the sourcing patterns of the government papers and the private electronic media. See Figs 5 and 6.

Fig 5: Voice distribution in the official papers

Traditional leaders
Local govt

Fig 6: Voice distribution of the private electronic media

Foreign diplomats
Zanu PF
Ordinary people

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