Comment

Millions more now see the real picture


CO

MMENTS carried in the official media yesterday denouncing Sky News for putting questions to President Mugabe that were “either very crude or very stupid” expose significant tensions in policy-making at the very apex of the ruling party.


Jonathan Moyo’s remarks, carried in the Herald, reveal a seething resentment of those who facilitated the interview. “Told you so,” seems to be the message to those who believed this would be a useful platform. Clearly, Moyo does not regard the interview as a resounding success.


So who set it up? Sky News has privately acknowledged that Ugandan researcher David Nyekorach-Matsanga facilitated the Sky News crew’s initial trip which focused on the youth training camps and land reform. But the network’s website makes it clear that the ruling party itself was keen to have Mugabe interviewed because it was felt he could effectively rebut some of the charges about his leadership and Zimbabwe’s current predicament.


The ruling party’s secretary for information and publicity Dr Nathan Shamuyarira has been linked in media reports to this initiative. But the Department of Information officiously sought to involve itself by laying down the law of accreditation. The Sky News crew entered the country “illegally”, we are told, at the end of April “before securing accreditation and despite advice from the Department of Information and Publicity”.


The department had “strongly objected to the arrival of the crew before agreement on the proposed documentary project featuring the president”.


So it would be fair to conclude from this that the Sky News crew had a sponsor who was more influential than the department’s presidential gate-keepers. Despite the department’s attempts to block an interview with the president until the team had applied from London, Sky’s home base, permission was quickly forthcoming without the ground rules some of Mugabe’s mandarins were apparently seeking to impose. These included a co-production with Newsnet, one of the state’s propaganda outlets.


There seems to have been an expectation that the exercise was aimed at “countering the negative publicity the country has been receiving”, according to state media reports.


But it was unlikely from the outset that Sky would lend itself to a project aimed at whitewashing a terminally-tainted regime. In the event the interview went ahead and Mugabe was asked the sort of questions that any self-respecting reporter would put to him on governance, food production, torture and retirement.


But significantly, it was a question on the succession issue which seems to have stung Moyo the most. The interviewer, Stuart Ramsay, cited Moyo as his source in asking Mugabe about the succession issue causing ructions within the ruling party. Moyo said he had never spoken to Sky or anyone about the succession issue.


“It is a total fabrication typical of British intelligence operatives who masquerade as journalists,” Moyo said.


Is it seriously suggested that the president knowingly gave an interview to British intelligence officers? If so, he was evidently impervious to Moyo’s advice.


Moyo cites as his ideal of a presidential interview the vacuous exchange with Newsnet in February when Mugabe emerged unmolested by a single challenging question. This “travelled instantly”, we are told, although it is not clear where.


The Department of Information has recently been engaged in energetic efforts to establish a regional network of state propaganda instruments that will exchange suitably panel-beaten reports on how well their respective governments are doing. This attempt to revive the discredited New World Information Order is likely to meet the same fate. There is no longer in the age of the Internet a market for dissembling state-generated claims that the public can easily see through. New Ziana and Newsnet are already suffering from a credibility crisis as nobody takes their reports seriously.


Moyo’s invective against the Sky News team is understandable. While Mugabe may be used to answering “stupid questions”, he did not appear so effective in dealing with the latest batch.


But what this episode tells us is that there are significant differences of opinion in the upper echelons of the ruling party over how to counter what the regime sees as a media campaign against it. This in turn is linked to jockeying for advantage as the succession issue assumes growing importance.


If Mugabe agrees to do no further interviews with what Moyo calls “colonial mouthpieces” like Sky, CNN and the BBC, believing the new networks the Information department has created will have an Al Jezeera effect, then the likely outcome will be further isolation.


The comparison with Al Jezeera is simply laughable given the clumsiness of Zimbabwe’s propaganda machine and the ineptitude of its handlers. Newsnet is no Al Jezeera. And no amount of regional bartering of information is going to disguise Zimbabwe’s “real story” which Zimbabweans themselves are only too familiar with. Thanks to Sky News, millions more around the world now see the real picture: a leadership in denial about food shortages and brutality, bereft of ideas and capable only of lashing out against its critics.

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