FABRICATIONS by ZANU PF and the state media it controls that Prime
Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his MDC-T party were bribing the private
media to give them favourable publicity ahead of forthcoming national
elections were the highlight of the media's coverage of party political activities
in the month.
These unsubstantiated allegations first appeared on the national television
station, ZTV, on January 4th on its 8pm main news bulletin. The station
claimed, without providing a shred of evidence, that the Prime Minister "has
once again come under the spotlight" after it emerged that he had "bribed
three editors" from the local private Press "to stop the negative reportage
of his party and his promiscuous behaviour". ZTV reported Tsvangirai as
having offered the three editors "thousands of dollars", in what it described
as Tsvangirai's "latest desperate attempt to redeem his soiled image,
which has seen him being condemned for supporting gay rights and his
glaring failure to handle his bedroom politics". It also claimed that the PM
"ordered" the editors to "redirect their negative reports to ZANU PF and
attack officials who dare question (his) blundering recklessness…" such
as Presidential spokesman George Charamba and ZANU PF Politburo
member Jonathan Moyo.
Instead of seeking comment from Tsvangirai and his party or the 'three
editors', ZTV attempted to give some credibility to its claims two days later
(6/1, 8pm) by roping in pro-ZANU PF commentators such as Gabriel Chaibva
and Goodson Nguni 'confirming' the allegations. These sources, which ZTV
paraded as "political analysts…privy to the issue", identified the bribed
editors as Stanely Gama (Daily News) and Brian Mangwende, Faith Zaba and
Nevanji Madanhire (Alpha Media Holdings, publishers of the Independent,
The Standard and NewsDay).
These allegations were contained in seven of the 20 stories the government
media carried on the activities of the MDC-T. Seventeen (85%) of these 20
stories were negative, while the remaining three were neutral.
The official state media allocated 102 reports to ZANU PF, 90 (88%) of which
were positive. The remaining 12 were neutral. The smaller MDC formation,
led by Industry Minister Welshman Ncube received coverage in one report,
which was neutral. The report was a follow-up on the defection of five MPs
from the MDC-N (Chronicle, 24/1).
Forty-three (42%) of the 102 reports on ZANU PF were on its provincial
elections for the Mashonaland West, which John Mafa won, and preparations
for the president's birthday by the 21st February Movement. Another 25 were
news stories reporting ZANU PF allies, such as Anglican Archbishop Norbert
Kunonga expressing support for President Mugabe and his ZANU PF party.
The remaining 34 reports were mostly opinion pieces, news features and
editorial comments depicting ZANU PF as the champion of the interests of the
black majority, citing its controversial black economic empowerment
programme; anti-gay stance, and the provision of farming inputs to
On the other hand, the private media gave Tsvangirai and his party and the
editors from the private Press the opportunity to respond to the bribery
allegations. All of them dismissed the claims as false and a ploy by ZANU PF
to discredit its critics ahead of national elections (Daily News and The
Standard, 6, 7 & 8/1).
In addition, the private media assessed the strengths and weaknesses of the
policies of the three coalition parties, as well as their readiness for elections.
For instance, these media quoted a wide cross-section of Zimbabweans
questioning the implementation of the indigenization policy and complaining
that most of the party's campaign tactics were bordering on coercion and
vote-buying, as the party reportedly intensifies its efforts to reclaim lost
constituencies, especially in rural areas. They cited as proof the provision of
farming inputs; partisan food distribution; alleged coercion of villagers to
attend meetings; and reports that the party was doling out positions to
villagers during its ongoing restructuring exercise (Zimbabwe Independent,
NewsDay and Daily News, 13, 16 & 25/1).
The private media (and the official media too) criticized the MDC-T for its lack
of public relations skills, recently exposed by Public Service Minister Lucia
Matibenga's angry reaction to The Herald (19/1), which had asked her to give
an update on what her ministry was doing to avert the civil servants strike
(The Standard, Radio VoP and Daily News, 22, 24 & 25/1). In response,
Matibenga was quoted as telling the government daily to leave her alone,
provoking outrage from civil servants' unions, analysts and opposition political
parties, who viewed her actions as "in bad taste" and a reflection of
"arrogance" and lack of commitment to the welfare of civil servants (The
Herald, 19/1 and ZTV, 24/1, 8pm).
This was reflected in the 74 reports the private media carried on the activities
of the country's main political parties. Fifty-three (72%) of them were on ZANU
PF, while 12 were on the MDC-T. The remaining nine were on the MDC-N.