State media turn on Tsvangirai

BY A CORRESPONDENT

HARARE - Having exhausted farcical claims of a coup plot in Mutare, the state-run media shamelessly found fresh "coup" material in grossly distorted coverage of Morgan Tsvangirai's plans for mass protests, portraying him as bent on the violent overthrow of Robert M


ugabe.

Tsvangirai’s remarks, at the congress of his faction of the fractured opposition Movement for Democratic Change, became in the state-run media a planned bloody coup, and Mugabe officials were passively quoted warning Tsvangirai to “stop talking about or planning violence and insurrections.” The media watchdog, the Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ), in its report covering March 20-26, noted, for example, that none of the ZBH reports provided the context in which Tsvangirai allegedly planned a violent coup, or quoted him actually saying so. ZTV only briefly showed Tsvangirai telling a post-congress news conference about his group’s plans to “confront” the regime, and then abruptly chopped him off before he could explain how they intended to do it. The state-run dailies, The Herald and The Chronicle, were equally malign, reporting the threats by Zanu-PF officials “without viewing them as being repressive, intolerant and typical of government’s authoritarian attitude towards political opposition,” said MMPZ. The monitors singled out as particularly offensive columns by Caesar Zvayi and Nathanial Manheru in The Herald and Munyaradzi Huni in The Sunday Mail, all apparently “preoccupied with attempting to discredit the opposition party’s activities for the sake of it.” The private media, including Studio 7 and SW Radio Africa, provided more balanced coverage. They quoted Tsvangirai as saying what he actually said about peaceful protest, and analysed the implications of the congress for the divided opposition and Zimbabwe politics generally. They also balanced their reports with quotes from Zanu (PF) officials threatening Tsvangiari’s group with boodshed if they dared demonstrate against the authorities. In addition, the private media carried seven reports of actions by state agents against the regime’s perceived opponents: the MDC, businesses, foreign trade unionists, church leaders and white commercial farmers. The state-run media ignored these latest violations of human rights. But then this is an administration that has never been big on press freedom, and which now no longer bothers even to pay lip service to the tenets of free speech. Thus came an outburst from Information Minister Tichaona Jokonya raging on about Western governments clandestinely buying into media organisations “through seemingly private corporate bodies” – though he did not naturally come up with any names – and urging that Africa “organise itself” in similar fashion.
“We are Zimbabweans first and journalists much later in life. We cannot sacrifice the country on the altar of so-called media freedom,” said Jokonya. The MMPZ noted that the state mouthpieces carried Jokonya’s words without question, including allowing him to “depict reports on the country’s worsening crisis as a creation of the Western media, such as the BBC and CNN.” Well, even the most brain-washed Zanu (PF) devotees would have a hard time squaring that with the reality of their daily lives of soaring prices, power cuts, and shortages of everything. So the state media continued with their technique of reporting the symptoms of economic decline, from the plunging agricultural output to soft drink shortages, as one-off events without asking why the authorities have allowed it all to go so wrong. The private media, however, battled on with critical insights into any move by the regime to start seizing mines – one of the few remaining productive sectors. Studio 7 and SW Radio Africa also carried stories on the dire food situation and how donor agencies are battling to raise funds.

Information is power
DEATH OF A HERO - JAMES CHIKEREMA 1925-2006

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