Ask no questions, but tell some lies


HARARE - The state-run media's policy of refusing to link Zimbabwe's agricultural and economic disasters to official incompetence, mismanagement and corruption is now so finely honed it could be summed up as "ask no questions, but tell some lies."
Thus in the we

ek April 10-16 the state mouthpieces handled production problems in milk, maize and wheat this way: hailing empty official pronouncements as panaceas, never asking how the promises of extra supplies of this or that could be delivered, or why the country has got into such a mess.
The same went for official reporting of economic decline. The media watchdog, Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ), noted in its report covering the period that while The Herald and The Chronicle did make unquestioning mention that there’s a supplementary budget coming yet again (a result of hyperinflation), ZBH ignored this.
“Instead, like the official papers, most of its reports were either hackneyed assurances by government and business officials that the authorities were taking measures to ease the economic distress the country was facing, or simply highlighted the problems without linking them to government policies,” MMPZ said.
Highlights of the state media’s coverage of agriculture included ZBH celebrating an announcement of an injection of eight million litres of diesel in this season’s wheat farming, to be sold at the heavily subsidised price of Z$11,000 a litre, compared with the current market ranges of $185,000-$200,000 a litre.
ZBH never asked whether this was enough, how the forex-starved regime could pay for it, or even if it did, how a distribution system involving, among others, police, war veterans, Zanu (PF) and government officials would work.
Then there’s milk. Real situation is that production is down 60% since the mid-90s, and the dairy herd has fallen from 104 483 to just 35 000 last year. MMPZ noted that the state-run Sunday Mail mentioned this, but only emphasized that Dairibord Zimbabwe Holdings Ltd. would import 450 – yes, 450 – cows from South Africa and this would considerably “boost milk production.” Just how, of course, remained unsaid.
The private media (apart from, as is now usual, the Mirror group) provided incisive coverage of the problems, interpreting them as the result of the chaotic seizures of white-owned land, skewed official policies and erratic supplies of inputs, MMPZ said.
The Financial Gazette said the authorities were becoming increasingly “jittery” about the pending crop assessment next month by the multilateral Zimbabwe Vulnerability Food Assessment.
The Standard reported gloomy assessments from the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, including that the food situation had “deteriorated significantly with rural households surviving on wild foods.” The Zimbabwe Independent reported looting of farming equipment by senior state officials.
The Financial Gazette and The Zimbabwe Independent also told readers how Robert Mugabe’s “Look East” policy is shaping up: an admission by the Zimbabwe Tourist Authority that arrivals from that quarter were down 70% and planes flying to the Far East were losing nearly US$1 million a month.
And finally, the regime continued to mire Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe, publishers of the banned Daily News and its sister Sunday, in bureaucracy, through a combination of ignoring a court order and prevarications, technicalities and irrelevancies under the country’s notorious anti-press law.
This Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) was a “fine piece of legislation,” Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga told ZTV – just a shade cumbersome.

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