If you are looking for timely news and information regarding the tenuous political situation in Zimbabwe, you might want to turn to a blog.
Over the the last several weeks I have identified a troubling delay in the reporting of hard news from Zimbabwe by major Western media outlets. Part of this is of course a function of President Robert Mugabe's open disdain of foreign media. Barry Bearak, the Johannesburg bureau chief for the New York Times, and Stephen Bevan of the U.K. Sunday Telegraph, were arrested and spent several days in a Zimbabwean jail last month for the "crime" of practicising journalsim without accreditation by the regime. The Committee to Protect Journalists claims that "seven years of government intimidation and deteriorating economic conditions have prompted a steady flow of Zimbabwean journalists to leave the country."
But a significant part of this news deficit seems related to the sourcing demands of traditional media. The blog This is Zimbabwe, covered the story of a Chinese ship carrying arms to Zimbabwe about a week before the New York Times did. Then there is the case of armed Chinese soldiers spotted patrolling the streets of the city of Mutare, Zimbabwe's fourth largest city. The story was reported on the website of the Association of Zimbabwean Journalists in the UK on April 15th, but only appeared in the Times and the Independent on the 19th.
I'll be the first to admit that these stories, when read on a blog, initially carry the whiff of rumor. This is especially so for second and third person accounts of events related to a blogger via text message (SMS), as is often the case in places like Zimbabwe where internet access is rarer than cell phone service. In both cases, however, the stories turned out to be true, but the slow moving traditional media either sat on or ignored them.
All of this is getting soft play in the traditional press. In my opinion, U.S. coverage of the crisis has severely undereported the degree of violence, intimidation and brutality going on in Zimbabwe. To the average American, the situation comes across as a slightly heightened version the Florida recount of 2000 rather than state terror on par with the most despicable regimes of the 20th century.
Is this because, as the Committe to Protect Journalists notes, the foreign press has been run out of Zimbabwe? Or is their a more fundamental problem with the way in which information is processed and regurgitated by the traditional media?
Press freedom cartoons by Mick Stern are available on the website of the Committee to Protect Journalists.