Shocking bias by state media over arms case collapse


HARARE - In a shocking display of bias, even by their dismal standards, the state media followed frenetic coverage of an alleged arms cache and coup plot in Manicaland by ignoring or distorting the dramatic collap

se of the case against seven of the eight accused.

And, in a fresh assault on what little is left of press freedom, there came the news that the Mugabe regime intends to legislate and licence state agents to tap telephones, open letters and compel email service providers to install equipment to help the state intercept private messages.

On top of proposed mail snooping laws – flagrantly unconstitutional – The Herald and The Chronicle, both state-run, reported moves by the Media and Information Commission to “regulate” companies “distributing subversive material of foreign origin.” Other media reported that targets of this attack are this newspaper, The Zimbabwean, and the South African-based Mail & Guardian.

“These developments clearly reflect the actions and aspirations of a typically paranoid police state so terrified of its own population that it tramples on its own constitution to secure its control of the nation,” commented the media watchdog, Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ), in its report covering March 13-19.

MMPZ cited ZBH as the worst offender in the coverage, or lack of coverage, of Judge Charles Hungwe ordering the release of seven of the accused in the coup farce, and his castigating Central Intelligence Office agents for intimidating state prosecutors in an attempt to get the case going.

The national public broadcaster largely ignored the matter and restricted itself to two brief reports on the suspects’ court appearances. “Even then, ZTV buried the issue in its bulletin and lied about the court outcome by reporting that five of the eight suspects had been released on bail when in fact they were released after the State withdrew charges,” said the media watchdog.

The main state-run newspapers, The Herald, Chronicle and Manica Post, followed suit by failing to explain that the judge had declared the suspects’ detention unlawful, and instead left the insidious impression that the accused were still guilty of trying to topple what the papers called “the democratically elected government of Zimbabwe.”

Interestingly, the Mirror stable gave credence to reports that it is owned by the CIO by totally ignoring the judge’s dismissal of the charges and his description of the CIO agents’ conduct as shocking.

“It was only the private media that gave a clear picture of developments in the arms cache story that exposed it as a staged sham designed to discredit the (Morgan) Tsvangirai MDC faction ahead of its congress,” said the MMPZ.

The Tsvangirai MDC congress itself was covered by the state media with emphasis on negative developments and, in the case of ZBH, suffocated with stories of scant news content or items peddling official platitudes as news. For example, Spot FM aired prominently a statement by Madzudzo Pawadyira of the Civil Protection Unit that his organisation “remains committed in minimizing the risk of disasters.”

True to form, ZBH censored the important stories of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan making unflattering comments about Zimbabwe during a visit to South Africa, and also the country’s projected poor maize yield. Instead, Radio Zimbabwe chose this: “ZBH and ZRP will hold joint awareness programmes on the importance of paying radio and TV licences.”

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