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20 Dec 2003 11:34
Zimbabwe’s state-controlled media has “blood on its hands” through inciting violence against President Robert Mugabe’s critics, according to a report published in Zimbabwe this week.
The state-controlled media was using the same strategy as Rwanda’s “hate radio” which incited the violence that led to the deaths of about a million people there in 1994, the report alleges.
In the months leading up to disputed presidential elections in March 2002, the state-owned Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation’s television and radio services and the government-controlled Zimbabwe Newspapers group were “active accomplices in the theft of a nation’s democratic rights,” said the report by the Harare-based Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe, the country’s independent media watchdog.
“They were also, at the same time, accomplices to murder,” says the report, entitled Media Under Siege. The report is the first to link Mugabe’s propaganda war, directed by controversial Information Minister Jonathan Moyo, with the hundreds of deaths and thousands of cases of torture, assault, arson and destruction of homes in the last four years of state-driven lawlessness.
“No longer is it adequate to say they are politically biased,” the report says.
The state broadcaster and Zimbabwe Newspapers, led by the Daily Herald in Harare, broadcast “deliberately untrue and inflammatory statements” that have “the effect of inciting people to violence.”
“When one day, the perpetrators of violence are held to account, those who incited them with ‘hate speech’ should not be forgotten”, MMPZ says.
Earlier this month, the United Nations’ International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda sentenced two journalists from the militant Hutu radio station, Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines, known as Radio Machete,” to life imprisonment for incitement to genocide. A pro-Hutu newspaper journalist got 35 years on the same charges.
The journalists’ outpourings of hate against the minority Tutsi population was held as a principal cause of one of the worst cases
of genocide in recent history.
“The scale of the violence (in Zimbabwe) is clearly very different, but in all other respects the parallel is a very close one,” the MMPZ report says.
“The Zimbabwe echo is so uncanny, it would hardly be surprising to find a copy of the (Radio Machete propaganda) manual on Jonathan Moyo’s bookshelf.”
Zimbabwe’s state media hold an almost total monopoly, with independent radio and television stations banned, and the country’s sole independent newspaper, the Daily News, closed down by heavily armed paramilitary police in September.
The state media broadcasts a constant stream of news bulletins, commentaries, talk shows and jingles that shower praise on the 79-year-old president and pour scorn and insults on the British government, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change and all other critical groups in the country.
Media Under Siege says central to Moyo’s propaganda strategy that the myth of a grand British terrorist conspiracy—with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai cast as “a puppet”—to overthrow Mugabe violently and replace him with white, imperialist, neocolonial rule.
It is “more than a historical curiosity” that at the centre of the Rwandan propaganda war were almost identical claims of conspiracy by the Belgian government, the East African state’s former colonial power.
MDC supporters, whites, journalists, priests, trade unionists “became ‘sell-outs’ and ‘stooges,’ dehumanising labels that made the MDC a legitimate target for the people’s righteous violence,” says the report.
ZBC and Zimbzabwe Newspapers make “hardly any attempt to report what was actually happening,” MMPZ says.
Instead they became “willing propaganda organs” devoted to “mobilise a hard core of people who (around presidential elections last year) who would make sure that Robert Mugabe won the presidential election, regardless of what people wanted.”
The state media has provided a diet of “straightforward lies” alleging MDC plots to kill Mugabe, carry out bloody uprisings, spread anthrax, set up “killer houses” and sabotage the economy by hoarding banknotes, to report says.
“If the language of violence is addressed to those who already have violent intent, then they will take it as an incitement to go ahead,” it says.
Egged on by ruling party politicians, particularly Mugabe who is already notorious for his violent rhetoric—only last week he declared that the regime would “unleash legal violence” on the MDC—the state media has created a climate of “fear and despondency” around the country, the MMPZ says.
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