State media glosses over economic crunch


1:City w:st=”on”>HARARE – Head of the National Bakers’ Association, Burombo Mudumo, became the latest victim of the state media’s increasingly ludicrous attempts to avoid blaming the authorities for the desperate economic situation.

The state-run radio, TV and newspapers suppressed or ignored Mudumo’s lucid explanation of soaring bread prices, a particularly sensitive issue. Thus while Mudumo explained in the private media that the hike – from $45 000 to $60 000-$75 000 a loaf – was due to hyper-inflation, which includes huge rises in flour prices, the state-run media persisted with incredible claims that this and the rest of the mess was the fault of commercial “profiteering.”

In its report covering Feb. 27-March 5, the Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ), however, attacked both the private and the state-run media for inadequate coverage of the local government polls. The media watchdog complained, for example, that there was no examination of the state of the voters’ rolls or location of polling booths.

ZBH ignored the campaign activities of the fractured opposition Movement for Democratic Change, while the state papers mainly regurgitated handouts by the Zimbabwe Election Commission, Zanu (PF)’s campaign rallies and results. For the most part, the private media didn’t bother to cover the elections – apart from The Standard which investigated clashes in Chegutu, where MDC supporters confronted Zanu (PF) agents taking down names of voters at polling stations, and where ruling party agents were also reportedly promising maize meal in return for votes.

“… The rest of the private media totally ignored reporting on the elections,” said the MMPZ. “It is such a dereliction of duty that gives the authorities leeway to manipulate the electoral process thereby denying the citizenry their right to choose leaders of their choice.”

But although the MMPZ criticised coverage of the local elections, perhaps the private media’s lack of interest reflected the general apathy among Zimbabweans about voting – because Zanu (PF) always ensures it will win while the standard of living for most of those outside the ruling party elite always gets ever more miserable.

For the state-run media, like the administration itself, elections Robert Mugabe-style are a push-over. Far more difficult is the propagandists’ self-appointed task of blaming anyone but the regime and its break-all-the-rules policies for the economic crisis. As the MMPZ put it: “The government media’s stories were typically pro-government, piecemeal and avoided holistically interpreting the issues as indicative of the authorities’ mismanagement of the economy.”

Thus the bakers’ leader was censored. Thus massive price hikes in electricity tariffs by the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) received bland coverage; thus 1 000 percent hikes in police charges for fingerprints, firearms and clearance certificates were reported without comment. Thus, on Spot FM, Mugabe says he is setting up a “committee” to look into problems at David Whitehead Textiles, now operating at 7% of capacity – but naturally the station carried no discussion of why this should be.

MMPZ said that, apart from the Mirror stable, the private media “generally linked the symptoms of economic decay such as the galloping cost of living, commodity shortages and the widening budget deficit, to the way the authorities are running the economy.”

In addition, The Financial Gazette quoted International Monetary Fund external affairs director, Thomas Dawson, as blaming skewed policies, including by the Reserve Bank, for fuelling inflation and saying that Zimbabwe had repeatedly refused to adopt IMF recommended reforms. Studio 7 quoted economist John Robertson as predicting – correctly – that attempts by Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono to get IMF help would be rebuffed because “Zimbabwe is breaking all the (economic) rules.”

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