Tuesday, May 6, 2008

For the truth about Zimbabwe, turn to the blogs first

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.

About 10 days ago, I attended a lunch with Eric M. Bost, the U.S. Ambassador to South Africa. He told us he had recently dined with Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Zimbabwean opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Although projected by many to have won the presidency, Tsvangirai now lives in self-imposed exile in South Africa as chaos and despotism gain increasing traction in his country. Bost told of videos he had seen featuring Mugabe supporters entering districts supportive of the MDC, dragging people from their beds, beating them, and setting their houses on fire. As the fires burned, these thugs were heard asking the local people, "Who will you vote for now?"

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.

UPDATE (5/9/08 1PM EST): The New York Times is preparing to run this report by Celia W. Dugger in the paper tomorrow. It appeared on their website ten minutes ago. Finally, someone is reporting on the brutality and intimidation in Zimbabwe. They might also have included pictures such as this, this and this documenting the torture (warning, the last one is pretty graphic). Or they might have run this photo of three-year old Samson, beaten because his parents work on a white-owned farm.

Photos taken from This is Zimbabwe, a blog published by Sokwanele, a civic action support group based in Zimbabwe. Their name translates as, Enough is Enough.


SamBam said...

The situation in Zimbabwe is so upsetting; the one hope that the people had for change is being stolen from them with this fraudulent voting situation. The country clearly chose Tsvangirai over Mugabe but sadly that doesnt matter for much right now. I didn't know about the journalists' predicament in Zimbabwe until reading this though, so thank you for sharing...very interesting

SamBam said...

The situation in Zimbabwe is devastating and it's so infuriating the the people's only hope was to elect Tsvangirai over Mugabe and that chance is being stolen from them. The numbers show that they were able to elect him but this vote tallying fraud is blocking the democratically elected candidate from replacing Mugabe because Mugabe and his thugs wont step down! it's so frightening that this is the reality for Zimbabweans.

I didn'know about the predicament of the Journalists until i read this though, so thank you for sharing

winner said...

Such a nice blog. I hope you will create another post like this.