Govt media ‘intolerably unprofessional’

HARARE - The intolerably unprofessional bias and distortions of the government-controlled media could were graphically expressed by Financial Gazette columnist Mavis Makuni last week. She accused the government-controlled media of "breath-taking hypocrisy and double standards" in their recent covera

ge of political violence within the opposition MDC.

Further evidence of this was the government media’s censorship of the arrest of civic leaders during processions to commemorate World Aids Day and 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence in Harare recently. They ignored the 24-hour detention of five members of civic society who were arrested during the march.

The private Press also missed the story, although The Standard (4/12) briefly reported on a related arrest in Seke. Through a picture caption of Aids and gender activists, the weekly revealed that the police had “pounced” on 150 women, accusing them of breaching the draconian Public Order and Security Act by “marching without a police permit”. The chairperson of the Association of Women’s Clubs in Seke, Winnie Manyere, and a photographer covering the event were reportedly “taken in for questioning”. But no more information was provided.

The media’s failure to cover such incidents adequately is a clear dereliction of journalistic duty and allows the authorities to get away with unlawful and unreasonable acts of harassment, including the arrest and detention of individuals, without being called to account publicly. There can be nothing more alarming than a media that allows this impunity to flourish.

The official media’s blind praise for every government policy as the panacea to Zimbabwe’s haemorrhaging economy was illustrated by their passive coverage of the $123, 9 trillion 2006 budget proposal. Instead of critically examining the proposed budget, almost all the 68 stories the government media carried on the subject (ZBH [45] and official Press [23]) simplistically used the widening of tax bands to exalt the budget, which they projected as a reflection of government’s commitment to easing the burden of the workers and resuscitating the economy.

Before Finance Minister Herbert Murerwa presented his statement, the government media carried 13 stories imploring him to draw up measures to halt the country’s continued economic meltdown and increase workers’ incomes. The Chronicle (1/12), for example, urged Murerwa to heed the workers’ calls for lower taxes with a “people-oriented budget” that would improve “people’s lives and businesses”. The Herald of the same day echoed these views.

And when the budget was announced, ZBH (1/12, evening bulletins) hailed Murerwa for increasing non-taxable income saying the development showed that government had considered “the plight of workers and the general populace” as “employees” would now use the money “to acquire assets as well as prepare for the festive season” (ZTV, 1 & 2/12, 8pm) and Spot FM (2/12, 1pm).

To give the budget the approval of the business community, ZTV (1/12, 8pm) reported Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce president Luxon Zembe and analyst Nyasha Chasakara as having described the budget as a “positive instrument” that is “critical in addressing fundamental issues and promoting economic growth”.

No attempt was made to conduct a comparative analysis with the previous budget. Neither did ZBH discuss how the authorities would finance the budget considering the reduction in taxes, one of government’s main sources of revenue.

The government media’s reluctance to expose confusion and contradictions in government’s policy formulations was reflected by their suffocation of Murerwa’s condemnation of the new spate of farm invasions. A cursory reference only appeared in the context of comments made by the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries president Pattison Sithole in The Herald (2/12).

In contrast, the private media’s 22 stories were inquisitive and balanced Murerwa’s perspective of the country’s economic outlook with independent analysis. These media noted that contrary to the minister’s positive projections of economic growth, the reality pointed to further decline.

The Zimbabwe Independent (2/12), for example, quoted ICAZ dismissing Murerwa’s forecasts saying his projected growth in the agricultural sector was based on an expected “increase in production of maize by 33 percent and cotton by 26 percent” but ignored “forecast losses of tobacco production by 30 percent and little likelihood of growth in the dairy, beef, sugar, citrus, tea, coffee and other agricultural sectors.” His projected “upturn in tourism”, added ICAZ, was “unlikely to materialise, unless Zimbabwe demonstrates unmitigated enforcement of law and order”.

Following the electorate’s indifference to the Senate elections, ZBH embarked on a campaign to validate the poll, enhance the alleged popularity of Zanu (PF) and bolster the relevance of the Upper Chamber.

As a result, its 49 stories on the elections and the Senate either myopically celebrated the party’s victory as reflective of the party’s growing popularity, or merely depicted the re-introduction of the Upper House as a milestone in the country’s democratisation. The fact that less than 20% of the electorate had participated in the election was censored. Nor was there any analysis on the causes of the unprecedented voter apathy that marred the poll.

Rather, in a bid to portray Zanu (PF) as popular and suffocate the fact that most of the electorate had snubbed the election, Radio Zimbabwe (28/11, 8am) and ZTV (28/11, 8pm) passively quoted Policy Implementation Minister Webster Shamu claiming that “over 80% of Zimbabweans & rejected regionalism, tribalism, neo-colonialism by voting resoundingly for the ruling party”. There was no effort to challenge this shameless attempt to present the ruling party as an unparalleled unifying force. – Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe

Post published in: News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *