|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
thoughts and prayers are with Zimbabwe |
- may peace, truth and justice prevail.
Monday November 22nd - Sunday November 28th 2004
Weekly Media Update 2004-47
2. INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
THE government media’s reluctance to expose the authorities’ pathological hatred of a free Press was clearly illustrated by their crude attempts to suffocate facts surrounding the delay in the arrival of the England Cricket team, which is currently in the country for four one-day international cricket matches against Zimbabwe.
Instead of categorically informing their audiences that the visiting team had deferred travelling to Zimbabwe because government had barred 13 foreign journalists from covering the tour, these media feigned ignorance of the reasons for the delay.
Typically, ZTV (24/11, 8pm) in a 20-second item carried at the end of the bulletin, reported: “Unverified reports say the England Cricket team that was supposed to arrive at 9 am hasn’t”, adding that the reasons for its non-appearance were “unknown”.
It was only the next morning that audiences of the government media got a glimpse of why the team had not arrived on schedule through an AFP ‘brief’ tucked away on the back page of The Herald.
The story reported that England had cancelled their flight to Harare “pending further discussions with the Zimbabwean authorities over a number of British journalists who were denied visas” to cover the tour. This represented totally inadequate coverage of a major hitch to a highly publicized international tour and warranted greater prominence, not to mention a full and factual explanation.
The private media displayed no such hypocrisy.
SW Radio Africa (24&27/11), Studio 7 (25 &26/11), The Daily Mirror (25/11) and the Zimbabwe Independent (26/11) all gave detailed and factual accounts of the story.
For example, The Daily Mirror reported that the English team had suspended their trip to Zimbabwe after government had barred the journalists on political grounds. The paper cited a BBC interview in which Information Secretary George Charamba was quoted saying government had only accredited “bona fide media organisations” and banned those that are “political” because this was “game of cricket, not politics”.
When it emerged that the authorities had backed down and revoked the ban on the journalists following threats of an England withdrawal from the tour, the government media downplayed this seemingly humiliating about-turn and muffled the truth.
Power FM (25/11, 1pm), for example, passively allowed Information Minister Jonathan Moyo to claim that delays in accrediting the 13 was “purely an administrative matter” which arose because the journalists had “supplied insufficient information” to government.
There was no attempt by the official media to reconcile Moyo’s claims with the initial reasons given by Charamba. Rather, The Herald (26/11) merely announced that government had accredited all journalists and unrepentantly maintained that some of them were “on a covert mission” using cricket as a cover.
An insight into why Moyo had climbed down on the matter appeared in the Independent. The paper revealed that ZANU PF information secretary Nathan Shamuyarira had overruled Moyo’s decision as he “thought nothing would be achieved by banning the journalists, except feeding negative publicity about government”.
The government media’s efforts to suffocate the facts surrounding the cricket saga demonstrates a total disdain for their obligation to accurately inform the public of such important developments and clearly affirms their status as slavish conduits of government propaganda.
2. International Relations
THE official media’s complicity in the systematic concealment of the government’s human rights excesses from the public replayed itself in the way they obfuscated fresh appeals by some European countries and the US asking the UN to intervene and address the abuses in Zimbabwe.
These media narrowly celebrated news that most developing countries in the UN General Assembly, led by South Africa, had outvoted their counterparts 92:72 against the adoption of a draft resolution condemning Zimbabwe’s poor human rights record without fully informing their audiences about the substance of the motion, its contents or relevance to the rights crisis in the country.
In fact, the official media merely used the latest development to reinforce the authorities’ specious claims that the reports alleging rights abuses in Zimbabwe were being contrived by its former colonial master, Britain, in its bid to oust government from power.
The Sunday Mail (28/11) even claimed that it was such ‘defeats’ like the blocked draft resolution on Zimbabwe that had resulted in Britain “increasingly seeking to engage Harare in dialogue to solve the bilateral problem”.
But such unsubstantiated claims were by no means new.
Just before the UN blocked the draft resolution on Zimbabwe, the government media diverted the public’s attention from the contents of the resolution by cobbling up conspiracy theories on the matter.
For instance, The Herald (23/11) claimed that the resolution, which among other things obliged Zimbabwe to create conducive conditions for the holding of democratic elections and invite independent international observers for the March 2005 elections, was part of the “desperate” manoeuvres by the British-led West “to sneak their observers into the country” to discredit next year’s elections.
The paper claimed that government’s proposed controversial electoral reforms and the acquittal of MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai on treason charges were eloquent testimonies of the existence of democracy and the rule of law in the country, contrary to the claims contained in the West’s “sponsored” UN resolution.
No attempt was made to honestly reconcile such one-sided claims with reality.
However, coverage of the issue by SW Radio Africa (25/11), Studio 7 (25/11) and The Daily Mirror (26/11) was more sober. For example, while SW Radio Africa reported Amnesty International (AI) arguing that the UN’s “no action motion” that allowed Zimbabwe to escape investigation by the world body “doesn’t help in improving the human rights situation” in the country, Studio 7 quoted a South African official defending the blocking of the resolution on the basis that it was “confrontational and would only exacerbate the situation (in Zimbabwe).”
Certainly, while the government media were exploiting this development to spruce up government’s human rights record, the authorities were ironically in the news for trying to bar more than a dozen foreign journalists from covering England’s current One Day International Cricket tour to Zimbabwe.
Typically, The Herald and Chronicle (25 & 26/11) tried to suffocate this latest display of government’s intolerance of media freedom, one of the concerns raised by the proposed UN draft resolution. The two papers carried brief reports on the matter and simply smothered the facts surrounding the issue. This contrasted sharply with the detailed and balanced reports carried by the private media, such as The Daily Mirror (25/11), The Financial Gazette (25/11) and Zimbabwe Independent (26/11).
Moreover, contrary to the government media’s selective coverage of the authorities’ escape from UN censure, the private media actually revealed that the South African labour union, COSATU, and that country’s Communist Party (CP) remained unsettled by Zimbabwe’s hostile political environment. SW Radio Africa (25 & 27/11), The Daily Mirror (26/11) and The Standard (28/11) reported that the SA labour body had resolved to send another fact-finding mission to Zimbabwe following the ill-fated deportation of its first one last month. This would be in addition to COSATU staging a series of demonstrations outside all Zimbabwean embassies in the region to protest against the deportation and the human rights violations in Zimbabwe.
The government media blacked out this development, including Studio 7’s (23/11) revelations that the CP had called for “an end to political violence in Zimbabwe”, saying that the “existing political climate in Zimbabwe and the continued use of state repression to close down the media, judiciary and opposition” was not conducive to the holding of free and fair elections in 2005.
Similarly, The Standard reported that AI had called on government to withdraw the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Bill saying the proposed law was “flawed” and should be “appropriately reviewed”.
The government media continued to evade these matters.
Rather, Power FM and Radio Zimbabwe (24/11, 6am) passively quoted Foreign Affairs Minister Stan Mudenge blaming Zimbabwe’s problems on the West, particularly Britain, which it accused of already scheming “not to recognise next year’s elections”.
All media, however, failed to either inform their audiences on the EU-ACP meeting or investigate why ZANU PF MP Kumbirai Kangai, banned from travelling to Europe under the EU’s targeted sanctions regime, had failed to travel to the Netherlands for the meeting as revealed by The Daily Mirror (25/11). This was despite the fact that the Netherlands had reportedly issued him with a visa despite protests from the EU.
LACK of interpretative skills resulted in most of the media failing to go beyond economic jargon and simplify acting Finance Minister Hebert Murerwa’s $27,5 trillion budget proposal for 2005 for the benefit of their audiences.
For example, instead of giving a clear breakdown of allocations to each ministry and carrying out a comparative analysis of the current figures against those allocated last year, most media simply rehashed Murerwa’s budget statement, which buried such pertinent information in the text.
Although The Herald (26/11) published the proposed estimates of expenditure for each ministry, this was only through a pullout of the full text of the minister’s statement.
Otherwise the rest of the coverage was characterised by the government media’s preconceived portrayal of the budget as the perfect companion to the RBZ’s monetary policy and therefore an inevitable solution to Zimbabwe’s economic problems.
On the other hand, the private media were inquisitive, balancing this simplistic perception with other hard economic indicators on the ground.
Even before Murerwa presented his budget, the government media were already abuzz with glowing previews of his financial statement, saying it was expected to complement the success of the central bank’s monetary policy.
The Chronicle (25/11), for example, claimed that the budget, coming “against the successful implementation of a tight monetary policy” and the drop in annual inflation from 609 percent in January to 209 percent October, was expected to further steer economic growth. Selected members of the public were also quoted expressing the hope that Murerwa would come up with a “consumer-friendly budget”.
The Herald (25/11) too exuded such expectation. However, both papers failed to provide an accurate summary of how successfully government had implemented last year’s budget.
Rather, ZTV (24/11, 8pm) simply noted, without providing evidence, that “despite high inflation, low official foreign currency inflows, reduced performance capacities by companies and erosion of disposable income, the 2004 budget managed to meet targets.” In addition, the station and Power FM (25/11, 6am) superficially argued that the absence of a supplementary budget demonstrated government’s “commitment to the turnaround of the country’s economy” through “fiscal discipline”. This was in spite of revelations by Minister Murerwa that government had actually overspent by more than $1.3 trillion.
But The Financial Gazette (25/11) was doubtful. It pointed out that nothing much was expected from Murerwa’s budget because the country’s “major part of the economic policy (was) now driven by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe” which has given the market “regular direction on interest rates and the exchange rate” through its quarterly monetary policy reviews.
The government media however, still persisted in portraying the budget in glowing and simplistic terms as illustrated by ZTV (25/11, 8pm & 26/11, 8pm), The Herald and Chronicle (26/11). These media mainly cited Murerwa’s allocation of $1 trillion for the capitalisation of the Energy, Housing and Infrastructure Bank, $5 trillion for capital expenditure, $6.8 trillion for education and the raising of the monthly threshold for non-taxable income to $1m and the tax-free bonus from $1m to $5 million as indicative of the success of the budget.
Economic analysts such as Samuel Undenge and selected members of the public were quoted as welcoming these measures and describing the budget “as people- centred”, ZTV (25/11, 8pm).
However, none of these media questioned why, if the economy was on the mend, the budget had soared from more than $7 trillion in 2004 to $27, 5 trillion proposed for 2005 – and indeed, where that money would come from.
Such questions only found expression in the private media.
For example, these media carried comments from a cross section of Zimbabweans such as economists, political leaders, workers and ordinary members of the public as being largely sceptical that the budget would revive the economy or meaningfully improve the welfare of Zimbabwe’s hard-pressed workers and its unemployed.
Some commentators, like John Robertson, mused about government’s capacity to finance the budget in the absence of “no investment”, shortage of “new jobs” and in the face of “fewer people paying tax”, Studio 7 (25/11).
MDC Shadow Minister Tendai Biti shared these sentiments. He told the same station and the Independent that the consumptive nature of the budget was nothing but a “dishonest, mendacious, over ambitious” statement that would not do the economy any good.
The Independent also quoted him criticising Murerwa for devoting 80 percent of the budget to recurrent expenditure while allocating only $5 trillion for capital expenditure saying, “no nation develops without significant infrastructure developments that come from meaningful capital investment”. In fact, Biti later told SW Radio Africa (27/11) that both the 2005 budget and the RBZ’s monetary policy merely attempted to perpetuate a rosy picture of the economy while the “political factors” on the ground, “which have made it unattractive for anyone to invest in Zimbabwe” remained unresolved. Said Biti: “It does not mention the neo liberal policies that they have pursued particularly the micro-economic programme by …Gono, which have exacerbated the crisis particularly in the banking sector…the financial sector…the issue of the death of the export sector because of an unrealistic exchange rate…”
The Standard also cited several analysts dismissing the budget, saying it did not “contain any concrete measures to address unemployment and mass poverty”.
Although The Daily Mirror (26/11) initially praised Murerwa as having brought “Xmas cheer” by widening tax bands, it later (27/11) castigated the minister for allocating about 42 percent of the budget to civil servants while giving important sectors such as health, which is on the brink of collapse, meagre amounts.
In fact, the Independent noted that the massive allocation to civil servants represented an increase of 324 percent over last year and was above the current inflation rate of 209 percent. This, argued the paper, was against “calls by the central bank to keep salary hikes within reasonable levels to curb inflation”.
However, Principal Director in the Ministry of Finance Andrew Bvumbe defended the civil servants’ allocation saying it was meant to avert high levels of brain drain and raise civic servants’ salaries above the poverty datum line.
Equally, the Chronicle (26/11) maintained its defence of the budget on the grounds that it was “probably” the “the most ‘people-friendly’ budget ever crafted in recent years,” because it “had all the ingredients of a government committed to the welfare of its people without prejudice to economic success”.
The MEDIA UPDATE was produced and circulated by the Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe, 15 Duthie Avenue, Alexandra Park, Harare, Tel/fax: 263 4 703702, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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