Review: Politics and Persuation - Gift Mambipiri in Mukai

Some things never change

Politics and Persuation: Media coverage of Zimbabwe’s 2000 Elections
. Ragnar Waldahl, viagra

Weaver Press, Harare. 2004

By Gift Mambipiri

Reviewed in  Mukai/Vukani Jesuit Journal for Zimbabwe

March 2011, Issue no. 56

Through this research, Regnar Waldahl, a professor in the media department at the University of Oslo observed that in the period leading up to the Zimbabwe 2000 elections, both the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation and Zimpapers served as loyal outlets for Mugabe and Zanu (PF), even though they are owned by the state of Zimbabwe and not Zanu (PF)(129).  Zanu (PF) as a party owns The Voice, which is a weekly publication. The role played by ZBC and Zimpapers as political channels manifested in a number of ways, chief of which was to give Mugabe’s views and actions pride of space whilst saying very little about the MDC and other opposition parties.

Political events were constantly presented from a Zanu (PF) perspective and in ways that brought out the party’s advantages over its election rivals. The other parties were given precisely the opposite treatment; on the rare occasions that they were mentioned, it was always with a negative emphasis on their inability to solve the country’s problems.

Before the 2000 election, The Daily News (private press) appeared to be the state-controlled media’s counterpart, with its clearly negative attitude to the governing party and evident sympathy for the opposition, the MDC. But instead of directly serving as a channel for the MDC, The Daily News was an independent actor, albeit with a definite political preference. The part it played was especially obvious in relation to the two chief opponents in that election. Since it was much more opposed to Mugabe and Zanu (PF) than in favour of the MDC, it devoted much more space to critising the ruling party than to selling the MDC. Its real strategy was showing  how misguided  ZANU (PF)’s policy had been and what undemocratic methods the party was using to stay in power.

The Financial Gazette, the Zimbabwe Independent and The Standard were in similar situations to the Daily News. All three made their political sympathies known by criticizing the party they opposed rather than by promoting the one they favoured (130).   Both Zanu (PF) and the MDC had supporters in the media that pleaded their cause.

An important task for the media under democratic rule is to monitor political life, drawing attention of voters to how the officials are discharging their election mandate. In this respect, there was a huge difference between the pro-government and the pro-opposition media before the election. In the former, there was little to be seen but praise for the authorities… the government was doing as good a job as could be done, and that the reasons for the problems should be sought elsewhere, among white farmers, imperialists and other Zanu (PF) enemies. The pro-opposition newspapers were giving a different impression. They clearly pointed at the deplorable work by government, they said the farm occupations were illegal and the police force was partisan.

Because of the tug of war in the presentation of political views, there were several reports of war veterans and Zanu (PF) youths preventing the distribution of The Daily News and other private publications in the rural areas (137). And one evening in April 2000, a bomb exploded directly beneath Geoff Nyarota’s offices at The Daily News. Nyarota was the editor of The Daily News

Fast forward to 2011, and  you realize some things never change. There have been a number of elections in Zimbabwe between 2000 and 2008 and the media houses used the timeframe to  further entrench their positions regarding the government and the opposition parties. We are in 2011, and under a Government of National Unity but already talk of impending elections has thrown media camps back to their old habits. The only change is the replacement of The Daily News by Newsday in the pro-opposition camp. And incidentally, Newsday has a popular section daily – spot the difference - where readers are shown two almost identical photos and are asked to spot the difference. In terms of media practices in Zimbabwe, year 2000 and 2011, I just can’t spot the difference! Nothing has changed.

The book is otherwise an eye opener to media students and those who manage newsrooms.

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Review of Politics and Persuasion - Media In Africa

Review Essays
Ragnar Waldahl. Politics and Persuasion: Media Coverage of Zimbabwe’s 2000 Election. Harare: Weaver Press, 2004.

LIKE MOST MEDIA STUDIES of Africa, these focus on a country within each author’s field of specialisation or expertise: they are case studies of the media in Cameroon, Zimbabwe and Ghana, respectively. Only rarely do authors take on the whole continent, or even the whole region, and when they do, it is usually as editors of a collection of essays by country specialists (as in Beverly Hawks’s Africa’s Media Image, Preager, 1992) or a collection of conference papers (as in Media and Democracy in Africa, Nordic Institute, 2002) … …

NOWHERE IS THIS more evident than in Zimbabwe, where the independent press has often been the only source of information on government misdemeanours, whether they be corruption, electoral fraud, or state sponsored violence and human rights abuses. As Ragnal Waldahl’s Politics and Persuasion shows, these newspapers were also an important source for understanding what was at stake in Zimbabwe’s 2000 parliamentary election and how the election was carried out in a climate of intimidation and fear, tempered by hope, only to end in widespread dismay and disillusionment. The timing of Waidahl’s study could not have been better since 2000 was a watershed year, preceded by two momentous events in Zimbabwe’s political development: the formation of the first credible opposition party since independence in 1980 (the Movement for Democratic Change, or MDC, led by the trade unionist Morgan Tsvangirai) and the establishment of the first independent daily newspaper, The Daily News, which challenged, and then overtook, its government-owned rival. These and other significant developments are discussed in a survey chapter on Zimbabwe politics and the media since independence. This is followed by an analysis of media coverage of the parties’ positions on such divisive economic and social issues as poverty and unemployment, land ownership and occupation, and “people’s rights” and the rule of law. The three central chapters deal with how the media covered the various problems arising from the implementation of the election, from voter registration to polling day, and the media’s treatment of the politically related violence that occurred during the electoral campaign. In effect, the author asks whether the election was “free and fair.” He also include a profile of Zimbabwe’s media– the government owned Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) and newspapers (e.g. the Herald and The Chronicle), the independent Daily News, and the weekly Financial Gazette, Zimbabwe Independent and The Standard – which would have been better placed at the beginning of the book rather than near the end. And a final chapter places political journalism a Zimbabwean context

Not surprisingly, the verdict of this book and indeed of most election monitors and observers (including those from the Commonwealth, the European Union, and the United States) is that this election was not free and fair. Beginning with a notoriously flawed electoral roll that favoured the ruling ZANU-PF, it was conducted in an state of state-sponsored violence that prevented the MDC from campaigning in many parts of the country (the “no-go” areas) and from placing its electoral agents in many of the polling stations. As the human rights NGOs (particularly the Human rights Forum, which conducted its own electoral survey) confirmed, nearly all the victims of this violence were opposition supporters, who were beaten, tortured or killed by the war veterans and the youth militia deployed by the government to occupy the white-owned land as well.

Nor was there a “level playing field” as far as the media were concerned, since, as the Zimbabwe Media Monitoring Project (ZMMP) promoting the ZANU-PF campaign (and much of the remainder to denigrating MDC). However, there was one redeeming feature to this skewed media coverage, as the author points out,  and that was the role of the independent press, especially the Daily News. Unlike all previous elections, this one not only had an opposition party capable of winning a free and fair election, it also had an independent daily to cover both sides of the campaign and to challenge the propaganda of Zimpapers, a task shared with the weeklies and critical monthlies such as Moto and Horizon.

In considering the results of the election, the author concludes that it was a “dead heat.” ZANU-PF had a mere 1.5percent lead in the popular vote and won only four parliamentary seats than the MDC. Even with Mugabe’s power to appoint another thirty MPs (including the chiefs), the ruling party still would not have had the two-thirds majority necessary to amend the constitution. The election also revealed as highly polarized as the media reporting. An overwhelming majority of the Ndebele, urban and youth vote went to the MDC, reflecting an ethnic, generational and modernity divide. However, ZANU-PF could still rely upon the rural areas controlled by the war vets and the militia and also where monitors and observers were thin on the ground. Nevertheless, the obvious question about these opportunities for electoral fraud is not considered here, even though the MDC challenged the results in thirty-eight of the one hundred constituencies by taking their charges of electoral malpractice to the courts before Mugabe packed their membership with his party supporters.

Otherwise, this is a useful and comprehensive survey of Zimbabwe’s 2000 election, which can be supplemented by the ZMMP report on Election 2000, The Media War (2003). However, whether the word “persuasion” should have been included in the title of a book dealing with such a violent election must remain open to question.