Friday, July 15, 2005

Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe - Report

The Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe
Monday July 4th – Sunday July 10th 2005
Weekly Media Update 2005-25



1. General comment

THE government media’s misinformation campaign reached new extremes this week. These media either distorted or censored stories that portrayed government in bad light, in an effort to minimize the massive humanitarian crisis triggered by government’s Operation Murambatsvina and muffle condemnation of the exercise.

While the private media reported UN special envoy Anna Tibaijuka’s reservations over Murambatsvina, the official media suffocated this news and only selected comments that portrayed her as appearing to legitimise the exercise. This saw the Chronicle and The Herald (8/7) misleading their readers by claiming that the UN envoy had endorsed the government’s brutal purge of the urban poor when they reported her saying that “cleaning up” cities was part of the world body’s ambition.
Apart from distorting Tibaijuka’s comments to justify government’s action, these papers also either censored or dismissed out-of-hand criticism of the clampdown as fabrications of the West while portraying Africa as fully behind Murambatsvina.

For example, The Herald (8/7) sought to downplay the African Union (AU)’s concern over government’s blitz on Zimbabwe’s urban populations by implying that the visit by Bahame Tom Nyanduga, to assess the impact of Murambatsvina, was not sanctioned by the AU but its human rights commission, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR). To substantiate its claims, the paper then quoted unnamed third party sources narrating how AU Commission chairperson Alpha Oumar Konare had expressed “regret” to Foreign Affairs Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi over the failure by ACHPR to follow “proper procedures” in dispatching Nyanduga. The “sources” added that Konare had “pleadingly” told Mumbengegwi that he “stood by Zimbabwe”. No comment was sought from Konare or the AU, whom the private and international media reported as being responsible for sending Nyanduga.

Instead, the paper tried to scandalise the ACHPR, by dishonestly claiming that last year the commission “unsuccessfully tried to smuggle a damning” human rights violations report on Zimbabwe, which the AU had rejected. It deliberately omitted the fact that the African Heads of State adopted the report at the AU summit in January this year after the Zimbabwe government had managed to obstruct its adoption by the AU for nearly a year.

The government media also used a false story distributed by the international news agency, Associated Press, to dismiss international criticism of Zimbabwe as a British plot when The Herald (9/7) refuted the AP report claiming that Russian President Vladimir Putin had described President Mugabe as a dictator. The paper quoted an unnamed diplomatic source saying that an unnamed Zimbabwean government official had exposed Andrew Lloyd, the head of the southern Africa Desk at the British Foreign Office as being responsible for inventing the allegation in a memo to British Prime Minister Tony Blair. But besides quoting a statement from the Associated Press acknowledging it had wrongly attributed Putin’s comments, as well as the Russian ambassador’s dismissal of the story, the paper made no attempt to substantiate its claims, or even to seek comment from the British.

While the government media continues to disregard professional journalistic standards, an offence under the country’s repressive media laws, the government-appointed Media and Information Commission, whose term of office expired last week, has remained deafeningly silent.

2. Purge of the poor and international concerns

MURAMBATSVINA and government’s launch of Operation Garikai, a reconstruction exercise aimed at mitigating the humanitarian crisis caused by its purge of the poor continued to dominate media coverage.

Eighty-nine stories on the matter appeared on ZBH (ZTV [37], Radio Zimbabwe [31] and Power FM [21]) while Studio 7 carried 25 stories. The Press carried 70 reports, 35 of which appeared in the government papers and the remaining 35 in the private Press.
But the dominance of the topic on ZBH did not translate into an informative coverage of the matter.
All its stories glossed over the devastation caused by government’s actions by passively portraying the authorities as addressing the misery through Garikai.
Similarly, 14 (40%) of the 35 stories the government Press carried pursued this theme.
It was this obsession with legitimizing government’s blitz that resulted in its media suffocating the growing international criticism of Murambatsvina.

Neither did they report UN envoy Anna Tibaijuka’s critical remarks on Murambatsvina, portraying her instead, as being satisfied with the operation. The supine tone with which the official media handled the issue was captured by ZTV’s announcement (4/7, 6&8pm) that government’s reconstruction programme, which has “created massive employment”, had begun nationwide.
The station quoted six alleged beneficiaries of Garikai hailing the authorities for allocating them housing stands. It then used their comments to claim that, “Zimbabweans have now begun to appreciate government intentions in embarking on Operation Restore Order and Garikai as they now reap the benefits”.

Without adequately discussing the criteria used to select the beneficiaries, it unquestioningly quoted Harare City Council spokesman Leslie Gwindi saying those being allocated stands are “bona fide beneficiaries who have been displaced” by Murambatsvina and not “ghosts and all these imaginary people who had inundated the city”. This brazen disdain for the victims of the purge went unchallenged.

ZBH’s passivity was also apparent when ZTV (8/7, 8pm) and Power FM (9/7, 6am) reported Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo saying about 5 000 houses would be built in the “next three weeks” for the victims of Murambatsvina. There was no attempt to question the practicability of such claims.
In fact, the broadcaster’s attempts to present the authorities as committed to assisting those affected resulted in Power FM (6/7, 6am), Radio Zimbabwe (6/7, 8pm) and ZTV (7/7, 6pm) drowning Tibaijuka’s calls on government to urgently provide victims of Murambatsvina with food and shelter in glowing reports on Garikai.
To justify the involvement of the military in government’s exercise, ZTV, Radio Zimbabwe (8/7, 8pm) and Power FM (9/7, 6am) reported “prospective home seekers” as having called on government to expedite the construction of houses by “mobilizing uniformed forces” and “building brigades”.
Tibaijuka’s reservations on the matter and other issues concerning Murambatsvina were censored.

Likewise, all nine stories that the government Press carried specifically on remarks by Tibaijuka omitted her critical observations on Murambatsvina, especially the remarks she made in Bulawayo. The Chronicle and The Herald (8/7), for example, merely portrayed her as supportive of the blitz while The Sunday Mail and the Sunday News (10/7) diverted attention from her remarks by focussing on Bulawayo Mayor Japhet Ndabeni-Ncube’s alleged barring of three government ministers from a meeting his council held with the UN envoy. The government weeklies reported government as contemplating disciplinary action against the mayor, whom “officials” attacked for trying to ridicule “cabinet ministers in front of the UN’s special envoy”. The papers did not seek comment from Ndabeni-Ncube or provide details of his meeting with Tibaijuka.

Instead, the official Press carried four stories, which sought to pre-empt the findings of the UN envoy. For example, The Herald and the Chronicle (9/7) unquestioningly reported Information Minister Tichaona Jokonya as saying government was confident of “a balanced report” from the UN despite the fact that “some members of the opposition were literally taking people to holding camps at night” in order to influence the UN envoy.
The Herald’s editorial also suggested Tibaijuka could only produce a negative report on Murambatsvina as a result of outside influence from the country’s detractors. The paper then drew parallels between Tibaijuka’s mission and that of former Nigerian president Abdulsalami Abubakar, then head of the Commonwealth Observer Mission to the 2002 Presidential poll, whom it falsely accused of having “capitulated to foreign interests” when he condemned the election despite having made “positive comments a few days before the poll”.

The next day, the Sunday News (10/7) quoted Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga as saying the UN report would be “immaterial” to government whether it is good or bad.
The government media’s partisan approach on the matter was reflected by their dependence on official comment and sympathetic members of the public as shown in Figs 1 and 2.

Fig 1 Voice distribution on ZBH
MED__ Govt.__ Lcl govt. __Foreign__ Alt. __Prof._ Police__ ZanuPF_ MDC _Ordinary Pple
ZTV____ 18____ 6_______ 5________ 5 _____4 ____1 ______0 _______0________ 42___

Pwr FM_ 13 ____1 _______5 ________1 _____4 _____1 _____0 _______0 _________0___

Rad Zim_10____ 0 ______11________ 0_____ 2 ____1 ______1_______ 1_________ 0__

Ttl_____ 41 ____7_______ 21 _______6 ____10 ____3 ______1 _______1________ 42___

Fig 2 Voice distribution in the government Press

Govt__ Local govt.__ Foreign__ Zanu PF__ MDC__ Alternative__ Ordinary__ Unnamed
_32_____ 12_________ 13______ 1_______ 3________ 5__________ 5________ 2____

Notably, most of the foreign voices quoted were sanitized comments made by Tibaijuka. Except for the MDC, almost all other local sources quoted passively amplified the official position.

In fact, the government media’s uncritical conduct resulted in The Herald (7/7) failing to question the logic and possible consequences of the Harare City Council’s unprecedented decision to rescind “all land sale agreements” it made between 1998 and this year and “resell” it at “market rates to the same buyers, where necessary”.
In contrast, the private media was more revealing in their 60 stories, 35 of which appeared in the private Press and the remaining 25 on Studio 7. These media exposed Tibaijuka’s reservations about the mass evictions and the international community’s reaction to the crisis. The private Press also reported on the divisions in government itself over the exercise and the continuing demolitions despite government’s announcement that Murambatsvina was “winding up”.

For instance, the Zimbabwe Independent (9/7) reported that Tibaijuka had criticised the militarisation of Garikai as well as the authorities’ continued reference to the victims of the clampdown as “criminals” and “squatters” during her meeting with government officials in Bulawayo. The paper and Studio 7 (9/7) also cited G8 leaders, the Danish Prime Minister, Australia, New Zealand and UN secretary-general Kofi Annan as having added their voices to the growing criticism.

In another story, the Independent noted that Mugabe had not received the usual energetic support from fellow African leaders at the AU summit in Libya and as a result had returned, “without the moral support he had hoped for from his African brothers to prop up his failed state”.

The Daily Mirror’s somewhat patronising story (5/7), New Zealand and Australia at it again, and all seven stories carried in The Financial Gazette (5/7) on the topic also projected increasing international isolation of Zimbabwe over the blitz.
For example, the Gazette reported the fact-finding delegation from the US Congress as having been “shocked” by the exercise, which it described as a “gross violation of human rights”. It also carried the Associated Press’s false report (see comment above) in which Russia’s President Putin was quoted saying G8 member countries should not be afraid of stopping aid to corrupt “dictators like Zimbabwe’s Mugabe”.
Although The Herald and Chronicle (9/7), carried the AP correction, they made unsubstantiated claims that it was a fabrication by British intelligence. Earlier, The Herald (7/7) attacked Western media and the MDC for peddling “laughable and spurious claims” to “justify the baseless demonisation campaign” against Murambatsvina.

The manner in which the private Press handled the topic was generally reflected in its attempts to balance official comment with alternative views as illustrated in Fig 3. But AP should be censured for its serious inaccuracy and The Financial Gazette should not be shy to carry a clear explanation of AP’s “mistake”.

Fig 3 Voice distribution in the private papers

Govt ___Local govt.___ Foreign___ Zanu PF___ MDC___ Alternative___ Ordinary people
_12_______ 8_________ 23_________ 0_______ 3 ________13____________ 9_____

3. The economic crunch continues

THE government media continued to relay piecemeal reports on the country’s economic meltdown, characterised by crippling fuel and commodity shortages and price increases. For example, although ZBH’s 50 stories on the economy included isolated reports on indicators of economic decline, such as fuel and foreign currency shortages, the broadcaster avoided relating the issues to government’s economic policies.

The government Press adopted a similar stance in its 22 stories on the matter. The papers made no attempt to link the increases in the price of commodities and services to government’s management of the economy. Instead, they tried to shield the authorities by blaming sanctions, the drought and business people for the problems.
For example, the government Press carried five stories that blamed “defiant” retailers and commuter omnibus operators for the sharp rise in bus fares and prices of basic commodities.

The Chronicle (4/7 & 5/7) reported that government would soon “crack the whip” on urban commuter omnibuses who were not following stipulated fares. It reported (4/7) that rural buses were also defying government’s price controls and were sticking to “illegal fares” which they announced without government approval soon after the fuel price increases.
The paper failed to investigate the viability of price controls or relate them to the recent massive fuel increases.

The Herald (4/7) was similarly guilty of blame-shifting when it accused retailers of defying a government directive not to increase commodity prices.
The government media’s blaming of businesses for the galloping cost of living came amid revelations by the Consumer Council that the monthly bread basket of a family of six for the month of June rose to $4.2 million up from the May figure of $3 million. (The Herald, 7/7 and Sunday Mirror, 10/7).
The survey was reportedly conducted before the fuel price increase.

In an effort to give the impression that government was addressing public transport shortages, ZBH carried 14 passive reports on government’s purchase of 69 buses. There was no analysis on whether they would solve the deepening crisis.
The government media’s professional ineptitude in handling the topic was reflected by the official Press’ sourcing pattern, which was typically pro-government. See Fig 4.

Fig 4 Government Press voice sourcing

Govt___ MDC___ Alternative ___Ordinary people
__27____ 4_______ 14_____________ 2_______

In contrast, the private Press provided a clear view of the economic meltdown in 23 reports.
It carried 15 stories on various indicators, including spiralling prices, fuel and commodity shortages and Zimbabwe’s international isolation. Four were specifically on the fuel crisis, while three were on price hikes.
The private Press’ stories categorically noted that the lack of foreign currency, coupled with government’s international isolation would make it difficult to end the economic crisis. For example, The Standard (10/7) revealed that Harare would miss out on the G8’s debt cancellation and aid doubling programme due to its poor international image.
The Independent reported the International Monetary Fund as having said economic recovery was not possible without political reform in Zimbabwe.

However, Studio 7 was largely reticent on the country’s economic decline. Half of the six stories the station carried on the subject were on the G8’s debt cancellation for Africa, with emphasis on Zimbabwe, two were on the alleged firming of the Zimbabwean currency on the parallel market and only one was on maize meal shortages in Mutare.

The MEDIA UPDATE was produced and circulated by the Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe, 15 Duthie Avenue, Alexandra Park, Harare, Tel/fax: 263 4 703702, E-mail:

Feel free to write to MMPZ. We may not able to respond to everything but we will look at each message. For previous MMPZ reports, and more information about the Project, please visit our website at
Add to your digg account