Watchdog delivers mixed judgement on online agencies

By a Correspondent
HARARE - Widening its scope, Zimbabwe's media watchdog has taken stock of some of the online news agencies now operating from outside the country in response to the regime's ever-more draconian suppression of free speech. And the results are mixed.
In its report covering Jul

y 10-16, the Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ) noted that these agencies are an increasingly important source of alternative information for Zimbabweans who can access them. They include portals such as ZWNews and the Zimbabwe Situation, which largely feature Zimbabwe-related stories published by local and international media, and Zimdaily and New which generate their own stories.
MMPZ made no mention in its analysis of Zimonline, probably the most influential of the agencies based outside Zimbabwe, founded and staffed largely by former Daily News personnel, after the paper was forcibly closed by government in 2003. Nor did it mention ZimObserver.
While acknowledging their important role, MMPZ said Zimdaily and New make excessive use of unnamed sources. It cited a July 12 Zimdaily report claiming that Robert Mugabe now preferred Emmerson Mnangagwa to Joice Mujuru as his successor. The story was a speculative piece that relied on unnamed sources and did not differ from several previous media reports, said MMPZ.
Zimdaily, it added, showed bias toward the Morgan Tsvangirai-led faction of the split opposition MDC, the monitors added.
On New, the monitors pointed to a story about infighting in the Information Ministry to replace Tichaona Jokonya based entirely on unnamed sources. The monitors acknowledged that such protection is necessary in a society where whistle-blowers face severe reprisals, but said “the practice can also be exploited by unscrupulous journalists to embellish rumour.”
MMPZ commented that, given the propaganda disseminated with impunity by the government-controlled media, many editors believe that “fire should be met with fire.”
“But the battle for the hearts and minds of Zimbabweans will only be won by those organisations that provide their audiences with the truth and palpable evidence of their claims … evident efforts to provide fair and accurate reports will establish a news organisation’s credibility,” said the monitors.
MMPZ added that it hoped “those media providing news of Zimbabwe from beyond our borders will not abandon their professional journalistic obligations in the struggle to liberate information and re-establish Zimbabweans right to be informed.”
Back its usual practices, the state-run media censored heavy-handed police action, including arrests, against National Constitutional Assembly activists demanding a new constitution. Only radio stations operating outside the country, such as Studio 7 and SW Radio Africa, and the online news agencies covered this.
Instead, the state-run media laboured on about the attack on the pro-Senate faction of the MDC, with dozens of stories depicting the Tsvangirai-led MDC as violent.
The Herald carried three stories attacking the West after Washington said the MDC’s alleged acts of violence only mirrored the “institutionalisation of violence” by Mugabe’s Zanu-PF.
The private media, with the now-usual exception of the Mirror stable, dismissed attempts by the state and its mouthpieces to depict a miniscule drop in Zimbabwe’s world-record inflation as some kind of indication of a halt in the economic meltdown.
The Zimbabwe Independent noted that the “din of celebrations” over inflation was “a lullaby to a dying soul.” Studio 7 quoted economist John Robertson predicting another inflation drop in July, with it rising afer that to 1,500-2,000 percent due to continued bad economic policies.

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