Sunday, March 09, 2008

Zim journalists committing electoral fraud too

Journalists of my generation at Ziana – between 1992 and 2000 – will agree that the best way to incur the wrath of the news agency’s editors was to submit a story without background, cross-references or with figures that did not add up.

Being a student of some of Zimbabwe’s best editors of that era, like Tarcey Munaku, Ndaba “Ndasto” Nyoni and “Sekuru” Tambayi Nyika (may their souls rest in peace), I cringe when I read some of the stories being churned out from Zimbabwe, particularly at this time of elections.

Very few reporters – and editors – produce complete stories that would make a reader understand an issue even if they have missed earlier accounts and I find it very frustrating.

Coverage of the highly contentious presidential election is the case in point here. Ruling Zanu PF candidate, President Robert Mugabe is quoted extensively by both the government-owned and private press as he bashes his opponents Dr. Simba Makoni and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change leader, Morgan Tsvangirai.

We read that at almost every rally, Mugabe accuses Makoni and Tsvangirai of being funded by British and American businesses. The Herald even published names of companies alleged to be funding Makoni.

The reporters doing these stories may be young and without much knowledge of what happened in the 1980s and 1990s, but their editors will definitely recall that every election before 2000, Mugabe received public financial donations (solicited and unsolicited) from mostly British individuals, companies and organisations.

I recall vividly that in preparation of the 1996 presidential election, Mugabe dispatched the late Eddison Zvobgo to go and fundraise in London, no less. Zvobgo raised more than 1 Million Pounds from the likes of Tiny Rowland and others.

I made several trips to London and other European destinations with Mugabe as a presidential reporter. There were meetings with white businessmen, which we would not be allowed to report on. I don’t suppose Mugabe discussed cricket with these men.

Lately, Tsvangirai has ganged up with Mugabe in accusing Makoni of being funded by foreign “embassies” in Harare. This sounds to me like a jilted lover venting on a rival suitor.

Was it not a few short years ago that Tsvangirai prided himself with being seen in the company of the same diplomats and even travelling to their countries to seek (and receive) endorsement and funding as the next president of Zimbabwe.

Could it be that after failing to deliver in three attempts, his former backers have decided to pursue a new and perhaps more acceptable option and Tsvangirai is lashing out in bitterness?

Whatever the case, the point is that Zimbabwean press (and to a large extent Diasporan and foreign press too) has been complicit in not being diligent enough to provide this background and cross-referencing or balancing their reports.

And the funding issue is not the only problem. There is the fact that Mugabe’s message at this year’s election rallies is exactly the same as he delivered at every other election campaign since the 1980s. He would give people land and food, increase salaries of government workers and make sure “bad ol’ whitie” doesn’t come back.

Yet, not a single reporter has raised this background in the thousands of stories we read each election period. No effort is made to go to the people and ask them if they ever received the things Mugabe promised them every election period.

Then there is the issue of rally attendances. Last weekend when Makoni addressed a rally at White City stadium in Bulawayo, depending on the newspaper one read, the number of his audience ranged variously from 4,000 to 7,000. That’s understandable.

Then this weekend, it was Tsvangirai’s turn and the range was 12,000 to 40,000.

I covered many rallies and other functions at White City stadium and unless its carrying capacity was increased in the years that I have been away, I know that there is no way 20,000 people can fit into White City; let alone 30,000 or 40,000 which is the capacity for Barbourfields or Rufaro.

Then there is the issue of generals who declare that they will not salute any leader other than Mugabe. Why doesn’t anybody tell these gentlemen the truth that if Makoni or Tsvangirai are elected by the people of Zimbabwe, it is a simple fact of military rules that they will perform a crisp salute to their new Commander-In-Chief or else they will be court-martialed.

In any case, President Makoni or Tsvangirai will remove them from the positions they hold now and replace them with generals befitting that rank.

These are just a few of many inadequacies I notice in reports from Zimbabwe and I wish someone could ensure that we get backgrounded and balanced news.

Neglecting these ground rules of good journalism is, in itself, an act of electoral fraud.

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