Now Daily Analysis
- Media manipulator: Robert Mugabe
By any definition, Zanu PF is a terrorist organization no different in its methods, modus operandi and results to Islamic State, al Qaeda, al Shabaab or Boko Haram.
In particular, by American standards, Robert Mugabe’s outfit belongs to the black list. That is why in 2001 U.S. president George W Bush placed Mugabe and hundreds of his cronies on a list of targeted sanctions, including a travel ban, asset freeze and severe restrictions on doing business with American citzens, corporate and private.
However, listening to broadcasts of the Voice of America’s English to Zimbabwe or Studio 7 programme, one gets the impression that Zanu PF is a credible political party that deserves an equal share of the airwaves. In fact, it is near impossible for the casual listener to connect the Mugabe regime to its spokespersons who are regularly given unlimited talk time on VOA by tepid interviewers who are all too grateful for to let them blubber on with their lies and misinformation.
The VOA has become a useful platform for the regime to spew its rotten propaganda. After all, few people still listen to the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation which Mugabe controls and uses to inject the nation with heavy doses of propaganda. Even in police stations and army barracks, officers and their families watch satellite TV and listen to foreign broadcasts for the true Zimbabwean story and a breath of fresh air from the heavy indoctrination that goes with their training and work.
Over the past few years, feuding Zanu PF officials have been falling over each other to go on VOA. Studio 7, which has a questionable editorial policy for a state-sponsored broadcaster has allowed most of those squabbling officials to be heard. The danger, however, is that dictatorial regimes like that of Mugabe are masters at creating diversions from the real issues, especially the deadly effects of their corruption and misrule. It seems at present, anyone who claims to have defected from Mugabe’s party is given unlimited airtime without questioning their motives. This has shut out democratic voices for which the programme was designed in terms of the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, under which it is funded.
Zanu PF has used shrewd methods to get on air, including bribing and threatening the VOA’s reporter. By its nature, Studio 7 maintains a string of undercover reporters in Zimbabwe, who use pseudonyms. Some of these reporters have abused this anonymity to lie and even create bogus sources, as we prove in a separate story. This anonymity has also enabled VOA to recruit active regime agents who report the station’s activities to Zanu PF.
Some say VOA had no choice. When they started, they were looking for experienced broadcasters. Because independent broadcasting is banned in Zimbabwe, VOA recruited from ZBC and Ziana. That was a cardinal mistake. All ZBC and Ziana reporters are vetted for loyalty to Mugabe by the Central Intelligence Organization. No one is allowed to work for any length of time at ZBC or to rise to a significant post without proving their loyalty. As with every terrorist organization, the only way to prove loyalty is by attacking the regime’s opponents.
ZBC presenters like Brenda Moyo and Praxedes Jeremiah who were made stars at VOA may have been experienced in setting the mixer levels, but they were clearly out of their depth in terms of democratic credentials. They failed to make the sort of impact expected of such a well-funded broadcaster for a variety of reasons. They had hang-ups about their past under the dictator which, to some had benefits. They feared for their families because when the CIO vets journalists, they make sure to record everything, including your grandmother’s home address, just in case one decides to defect. The worst part, however, is that these new VOA baggage had heavy Zanu PF propaganda baggage which they could not shed easily. To cap it all, Zimbabweans did not trust that they could the plunge from being Mugabe’s paid liar one day and a democratic journalist the next day. So, most of these new VOA reporters can earn their salaries but have failed to earn the respect of credible sources within the democratic movement.
This manifests itself in the VOA’s regular practice of promoting people with zero impact on the democratic landscape in Zimbabwe but with a social media presence, which is probably all that counts to the American editors and controllers in Washington. As an example, Caroline Gombakomba, otherwise known at ZBC as Caroline Mugabe, was notorious for coming up with shadowy ‘politicians’ around election times and insisting they should be accorded equal time to established parties like the MDC. This manufacturing of sources backfired because the said politicians, who were usually CIO operatives vanished soon after the elections, proving that they never existed in the first place.
We wholly agree with the observation by activist group Consumer Action that giving a voice on the airwaves to Zanu PF militants equates to allowing Islamic State or al Qaeda unlimited airtime. Why is it VOA policy to limit what ISIS or al Qaeda can say on air and cut the time allocated for their ‘side’ of the story while allowing Zanu PF murderers unlimited access to the airwaves.
As we reported on this website, Zanu PF’s propaganda planners have a new strategy. They’ve realised that no one will listen to them on Bobstation, so they are making a beeline to the VOA, presenting themselves as moderates, reformers or dissenters. This has, apparently, fooled the VOA mandarins in Washington. American taxpayers are footing the bill for allowing Mugabe to be seen in good light.
The editorial incompetence at VOA News has become all too apparent with the emergence of social media. Studio 7 has lost the grip on listeners that it once had. Their style of routinely following up on what has been published in local papers is no longer viable. By the time they go on air, many VOA programmes carry yesterday’s news. Social media and a growing number of Zim-centric news websites have enabled Zimbabweans to interact with the news as it happens and not wait for the evening news bulletin to know what is going on.
Studio 7 is staffed by a lot of regime sympathisers or people with ties that bind within the system. It was a useful strategy in the past when news sources from inside were hard to come by. However, with the disintegration of Zanu PF and the growth in the number of whistle blowers such a strategy is no longer viable.
On the whole, the VOA Zimbabwe service needs to be streamlined to conform to American foreign policy on Zimbabwe. That is not to say they will lose their independence as journalists. Actually, it will make Studio 7 more robust and selective of its sources and news gathering strategies. Currently, the undercover reporter can also be the undercover liar, as happened a few years ago when a Studio reporter claimed that Brendan Taylor had played very well when, in fact Taylor had not even played on the day in question. The reporter later confided to Now Daily that he had not even watched the match as he claimed. But such stories still get aired and the reporters still get paid, damaging the reputation of an otherwise reputable media service with a long tradition of exposing rare and hidden facts even though it is under U.S. government control.
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