Propaganda in Zimbabwe media hits fever pitch

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The Independent Online

There is only one candidate in this weekend's presidential poll in Zimbabwe, Comrade Robert Mugabe, according to yesterday's one o'clock news on state-controlled television.

At his "biggest rallies" so far, he told the masses,who were, curiously, not shown on screen, that land reform must be taken to its conclusion for the sake of the thousands who sacrificed their lives to shed "the shackles of imperialism".

Next up was good news for seven families near Masvingo in the south, to whom the Zanu-PF government has "given" a commercial farm. The headman was profusely thankful.

There was also a report of accelerated state maize delivery to starving Manicaland peasants, and one on generous government donations to the disabled and disadvantaged women traders.

In television advertisements dubbed "Reflections", Zanu-PF airs old speeches by war heroes about colonialism, white racism, Zimbabwean nationalism and the land. Between programmes, happy people dance amid fields of lush maize – but they look nothing like those next to the roads of a country suffering drought, the destruction of farming and a growing food crisis.

Propaganda has reached fever pitch on the state- controlled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation – called "Zanu-PF Broadcasting Corporation" by opposition supporters – as the government mobilises every tool at its disposal to clinch victory for Mr Mugabe in the face of plummeting support.

Among those tools are stones. The wounded crowd into the offices of the Amani Trust, a human rights organisation, in Harare, waiting to tell their stories. A young man with gaping injuries beneath dreadlocks lifts his trouser legs to reveal yet more gashes. "Youths attacked me with stones," he said. "They accused me of supporting the Movement for Democratic Change." The MDC's leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, is challenging Mr Mugabe for the presidency.

There are no stories about Zanu-PF violence on the airwaves, although in Bulawayo last week the state-owned Chronicle screamed "MDC terror" above a story about an opposition supporter driving his car into Zanu-PF supporters, injuring 16.

The Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe, a media watchdog, confirmed yesterday there had been no reports of political violence on radio or TV – the medium that the uneducated and poor, who are traditionally Zanu-PF supporters, rely on for news. Instead, ZBC played down private media reports of violence, airing the comments of observers who called them "exaggerated".

The media watchdog accused ZBC of misleading the public with a report about MDC legislators asking an air marshal for support if the party "assassinates" Mr Mugabe. Nowhere in the documentary, it says, was this suggested: rather, he was asked for help with pacifying the army if the MDC wins the election.

ZBC, it adds, "continued to denigrate the MDC while according Zanu-PF positive coverage and more airtime". Among other examples, it cites 13 campaign reports by Radio Zimbabwe on one day this week. Ten were "campaign pieces for Zanu-PF", one favoured a minority party, and, "as has become the norm on ZBC, two denigrated the MDC".

But just as the state- controlled media gives favourable coverage to the ruling party, the watchdog reports, private newspapers and Shortwave Radio Africa support the MDC. Such is the polarisation of the media in Zimbabwe that it is hard to believe that they are covering the same country.

In terms of pitching messages, though, the MDC seems rather more in touch with ordinary people. It talks about good governance and economic recovery, while Zanu-PF harps on and on about imperialism, the liberation war and the evils of whites.