State media had a ball while arms cache lasted

By a Correspondent

HARARE – Like manna from heaven, the state-run media turned the alleged discovery of an arms cache and coup plot in Manicaland into a frenzy, not only convict

ing the accused, but also digging up old footage of the Rhodesian army, Renamo and anything else to give the impression Zimbabwe was under siege from ex-colonial forces.

The media watchdog, Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ), in its report covering March 6-12, described the coverage as showing “total disregard of basic journalistic standards of accuracy, balance and fairness.”

Nothing new in that. However, the subsequent dropping of charges against almost all the accused, and a ruling by a judge on circuit in Mutare that police and state security agents acted unlawfully, including bullying state prosecutors, must have come as a blow to the regime’s mouthpieces.

But that was later, and while it lasted ZBH and the state newspapers had a field day. For example, all ZBH’s stations claimed that Peter Hitschmann, at whose home the so-called arms cache was allegedly found, was a former Rhodesian solider, and all subsequent references centred on this colonial link rather than his current status.

The privately run Studio 7, quoting the head of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, the Rev. Trevor Manhanga, revealed that Hitschmann belonged to the Zimbabwe police’s special constabulary and, as well as being a registered firearms dealer, routinely worked with the Mutare police to curb border-jumping.

MMPZ said that the other private media’s coverage – apart from that in the Mirror stable – was also “more informative, incisive and sober,” adding: “For instance, they reported lawyers, politicians and commentators questioning the validity of the discovery and its timing.”

However, while the going was good, the state media let rip. Issues raised in ZTV reports included old favourites such as alleged attempts by ex-Rhodesian security forces to kill Robert Mugabe; opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s allegedly threats to remove him violently from office; and the interception of suspected mercenaries en route to Equatorial Guinea. The Herald carried a massive picture of the alleged arms cache across almost its entire front page.

“All real and perceived enemies of the ruling party, ranging from the shadowy Zimbabwe Freedom Movement (ZFM), allegedly led by Peter Tatchell, to the opposition Renamo of Mozambique were retried from the archives, dusted off and linked to Hitschmann’s arms cache,” said MMPZ.

No mention, of course, of the convenient discovery of other similar intrigues which have been used to crush opposition, such as discrediting the late Joshua Nkomo over arms in Matabeleland or blaming the Movement for Democratic Change for the murder of war veteran Cain Nkala.

Only the Financial Gazette reported the continued official dithering over the fate of the banned Daily News and its sister Sunday. In an about face, the head of the regime’s Media and Information Commission, Tafataona Mahoso, announced he cannot rule on this. The newspapers’ owners, Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe, are now battling to get a response from Information Minister Tichaona Jokonya.

Commented the MMPZ: “While the authorities continue to dither and suffocate ANZ’s publications in their bureaucracy, Zimbabweans – who are subjected to relentless propaganda from the dominant government-controlled media – remain deprived of credible alternative sources of information which, in turn, severely limits the capacity to be adequately informed.”

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