Weekly Media Update 1999 - 24
This week MMPZ focused on the fuel crisis, the constitution-making process, the DRC and the ZANU (PF) congress.
The Fuel Crisis
Reports on the fuel crisis were confusing. The story first appeared in The Financial Gazette headlined “Murerwa on bailout mission for NOCZIM”. The report quoted authoritative sources stating that the state-owned fuel procurement utility no longer had the foreign currency either to service its crippling debt or to purchase more stocks. The article stated that the remaining reserves were expected to run out in three weeks. It also noted that Finance Minister, Herbert Murerwa is leading a team to Libya and Europe to seek new lines of credit for the National Oil Company of Zimbabwe (NOCZIM).
The private press maintained that fuel reserves were running dry whereas ZIMPAPERS and ZBC were at pains to convince the public that there was enough fuel until new stocks are procured.
The Standard in a banner headline “Fuel Crisis-15 days of diesel supply left” quoted officials from three oil companies confirming that the country would be without fuel in a few days. In the same article, Minister Chikowore denied this to be the case.
The Daily News (December 14th) in an article “No end in sight for fuel crisis” attributed the dwindling oil reserves to the shortage of foreign currency.
The Herald and The Chronicle (December 15th) ran an article that quoted a NOCZIM official, a Commercial Bank Of Zimbabwe (CBZ) official, a Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) official and a Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC) representative, all allaying fears of a fuel shortage.
The Daily News also quoted NOCZIM in an article “Chaos reigns as fuel crisis deepens” but made extensive use of other sources who maintained that the situation was getting worse. Its Comment (December 15th) “It pays to be honest on fuel” called on the government to be truthful.
As the week progressed, despite the fact that in the capital’s filling stations there was only limited petrol and in some cases no diesel, ZBC reports were dominated by statements from government, NOCZIM and industrial associations, all denying the reality.
On December 14th radio (8pm) and television (8 pm) ran a statement from CBZ management saying that Chairman Gideon Gono had accompanied a delegation headed by Finance Minister Herbert Murerwa to unnamed European countries to enable Zimbabwe to secure more supplies. The results of this trip were not given. The statement was followed up on December 15th, (6am on radio and 7am on television) with a report that quoted a NOCZIM spokesperson attributing the shortages to an increase in demand in some parts of the country. The story was buried near the bottom of the bulletins.
None of these stories were substantiated with comments from service station personnel and/ or the public.
The Constitution-making process
The constitution-making process continued to receive prominent media coverage with the focus being on reactions and analyses of the draft constitution. The demonstration by the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) and the presentation of the provincial reports to the President also featured during the week.
The private press and The Sunday News continued to dismiss the draft, although it was noted that the Sunday News continued to place its criticism in the back pages of the paper.
The Financial Gazette in its “Road to a New Constitution” column by Lovemore Madhuku outlined how the proposed senate would be ineffective in checking the powers of the president. The Zimbabwe Independent in its Cutting Edge column by Welshman Ncube, “Proposed electoral system more-mischief” attacked the draft for failing to come up with a truly independent electoral commission.
The Daily News’s articles “Draft constitution sends the state’s spin doctors into a spin (December 9th), “Ncube dismisses draft as foolish deception (December 10th), “Christian groups threaten to reject draft constitution (December 13th) and Bishop attacks constitution (December 13th) all denounced the draft.
The Standard Comment “Smoke and Mirrors” noted that the referendum would legitimize a flawed draft.
The Sunday News published two articles quoting voices that dismissed the draft, being “NCA urges rejection of draft constitution” and “NCDPZ call to amend draft constitution”.
ZBC, The Sunday Mail and the ZIMPAPERS dailies remained supportive of the draft. Television (December 9th 7am and 8pm) interviewed United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Representative Carlos Lopez who expressed his fulsome approval.
Although The Zimbabwe Mirror ran news articles, which quoted the NCA denouncing the draft The Scrutator column maintained that it would bring about positive change in Zimbabwe.
The Sunday Mail article “Voters get option to choose between hope and fear” by Jonathan Moyo accused critics (individuals & media organizations) of the draft constitution of spreading fear and despondency, and furthering their own self-serving interests (singling out Welshman Ncube and David Coltart), and called on the public to vote “yes” in the referendum.
The Herald (December 10th) article “President quizzes commission again” and The Chronicle article “Final draft presented” extensively quoted President Mugabe questioning the CC on whether the draft represented the people’s views. However the letter accompanying the presentation of the social reports by Judge Justice Chidyausiku to President Robert Mugabe escaped the attention of both ZIMPAPERS and the ZBC. The latter covered the event on December 9th (Television, Nhau/ Indaba and 8 pm, Radio 8 pm) with no analysis of the contents of the reports or the draft. The Daily News (December 15th) summarized the letter in an article headlined “Chidyausiku admits ignoring public views”.
The NCA demonstration
The NCA demonstrations in Harare and Bulawayo received fair coverage, except in The Sunday Mail. No media covered the demonstrations in Gweru and Mutare.
The Zimbabwe Mirror carried an article on the intended NCA march in an “NCA goes on nationwide march to protest draft constitution” which quoted both Lovemore Madhuku of the NCA and Ben Hlatshwayo of the CC.
The Herald (December 11th) Comment “NCA must ensure today’s demos are peaceful” suggested that the demonstration might be violent.
The Standard in an article “NCA marchers gassed” reported that police had fired teargas thus causing chaos at an otherwise peaceful demonstration.
The Sunday News in an article “NCA urges rejection of draft constitution” accorded space to Provincial NCA Chair Felix Mafa denouncing the draft constitution.
The Daily News (December 13th) also fairly reported on the Harare and Bulawayo marches, while The Sunday Mail reported the NCA demonstration as a “flop” in an article, “Less than three hundred turn up for NCA millennium march”. MMPZ monitored the event, both at Rufaro and in the city centre, and witnessed crowds of many more than 300, despite the tear-gas and the rain.
Television ran reports on the demonstration in both the Nhau/ Indaba and main news bulletins that quoted NCA representatives Thoko Matshe and Welshman Ncube. This was also reported on radio (December 11th, 8 pm). The report stated that some demonstrators had been tear gassed by the police, although ZBC was not present to film this. No comment was sought from the police who launched their tear-gas offensive after being shown copies of a court order which banned the police from stopping the march.
No media reported that a tear-gas canister was fired inside the NCA official vehicle while it was being driven by task force member Tendai Biti.
The state of the DRC truce was the subject of editorial comment in both The Zimbabwe Independent and The Financial Gazette, headlined “Elusive DRC peace taking a heavy toll” and ”Congo standoff threat to peace” respectively. ZIMPAPERS and ZBC concentrated on announcements of resolutions made at the weekend summit on the DRC in Namibia.
The state of Zimbabwean troops reportedly surrounded in Ikela, remains a mystery. The Zimbabwe Independent in a Reuters article entitled “Zimbabwe backs down over rescue of besieged troops” noted that the DRC government allied troops and the rebels had struck a deal to withdraw from a key town in northern DRC in exchange for the opening of supply routes to soldiers trapped in Ikela.
Radio (December 12th, 8 pm) and television (December 12th, Nhau/ Indaba and 8 pm) featured the DRC allied forces summit peace talks in Namibia. The only source was Namibian President Sam Nujoma who called on allied forces’ leaders to ensure strict adherence to the June Lusaka peace agreement. He also expressed concern on the violation of the peace agreement in the area around Ikela, “where Zimbabwe troops are blocked by the Rwandese”.
On December 13th, President Mugabe was quoted on both radio (1 pm and 8 pm) and television (8 pm) saying allied forces will use force to ensure that “our soldiers are not perpetually besieged”. The report stated that rebels, in violation of the Lusaka ceasefire agreement, had surrounded “many” soldiers from unspecified countries in Ikela. This deliberate vagueness defies ZBC’s mandate to “inform” its audience.
MMPZ has noted the consistent use of radio by government officials to deny reports covered in other media, especially the private press. On December 9th this report was item number 6 in the 1 pm bulletin:
The Ministry of Defence has categorically denied media reports alleging that Zimbabwe has reached an agreement with Rwanda for the replenishment of supplies of SADC allied forces for Ikela in DRC. Defence Spokesman Colonel Diye said Zimbabwean officers went to Kigali, Rwanda in response to an invitation by that country. He said their mission was solely to find out from Rwanda the purpose of the invitation. The statement said Zimbabwe has no intention whatsoever to negotiate outside the Joint Military Commission without concurrence from other members of the alliance. Colonel Diye said the media reports are misleading and designed to divide the SADC alliance, adding that the source of this information has deliberately done so to cause a division within the alliance.
The ZANU (PF) Congress
The ZANU (PF) congress received prominent media coverage with the issue taking nearly 49 minutes of television news airtime (excluding the 1.30 pm bulletins) in the week under review. This constitutes 10% of the entire news output.
Most of the reports focused on the ZANU (PF) chairmanship and probable candidates as well as provincial nominees to the ZANU PF Central Committee. Only the electronic media listed some of the issues the congress might address.
A detailed report on the coverage of the congress, which ends on Sunday December 19th, will be provided next week.