How to manipulate the Zimbabwe media


It was an elaborate dress rehearsal. Everything was planned to the last detail. There would be 12 to 15 journalists. The two United States diplomats would sit as planned with the US and Zimbabwe flags behind them. The press would be seated in a semi-circle because the effect sought was conversational.

But that was not all. Even the headline for the following day had been thought of in advance. “Food crisis worsens- Hall urges policy changes and more international support”.

This was typical propaganda at work. After all Zimbabwean journalists were good at distorting stories. They were very polite and not terribly aggressive – read could easily be misled.


Full cable:


Viewing cable 02HARARE2211, Press Conference Briefing Notes for

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Reference ID






2002-10-03 06:20

2011-08-30 01:44


Embassy Harare

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.











E.O. 12958: N/A


SUBJECT: Press Conference Briefing Notes for

Ambassador Tony Hall’s visit to Zimbabwe,

October 8 – October 11, 2002



1. (U) The following offers briefing notes for

Ambassador Hall’s press conference in Harare, Zimbabwe,

scheduled for Friday morning, 11 October 2002. The

press conference will be held at the conclusion of

Ambassador Hall’s visit to Zimbabwe.



Goal of the Press Conference:



2. (U) The ideal headline the day after the press

conference would be along the following lines: “Food

Crisis Worsens – Hall Urges Policy Changes and More

International Support.” We hope you can convey the

urgency you and the USG feel in addressing the crisis

and the critical importance of urgent GOZ accompanying

actions. The field trips you will take will give you

additional information to provide a real-life

perspective on the humanitarian crisis. Below is some

background information for the press briefing and

questions and answers on specific issues that may arise.



Scene Setter and Suggested Media Themes:



3. (U) The Press Conference will be held in the

auditorium of the Public Affairs Section’s (PAS)

offices. PAS has separate offices from the Embassy and

is located in the city center near the Meikles Hotel.

We expect a minimum of 12 to 15 journalists. Ambassador

Hall and Ambassador Sullivan, will be seated at a draped

table in front of the black backdrop with the US and

Zimbabwean flags behind them. The press will be seated

in a semicircle facing the principals. The effect

sought is “conversational,” that is, something less

formal than a stand-at-the-podium-style press



4. (U) The Public Affairs Officer, Bruce Wharton, will

introduce you (we will also distribute copies of your

bio) and you will be expected to make an opening

statement prior to taking questions. In your opening

statement, we suggest you speak about your field visits

and highlight the following themes:


1)   Zimbabwe’s food crisis is becoming increasingly



2)   The Government of Zimbabwe should make policy

decisions to permit the private sector and a larger

number of NGOs to play a role in addressing the nation’s

food needs.


3)   Among the policy issues we believe are exacerbating

the food crisis are the Grain Marketing Board’s monopoly

on grain imports and sales, unrealistically low price

controls on staple foods, ponderous bureaucratic

procedures for clearing donated food through Zimbabwean

customs, and limitations on the NGOs permitted to

participate in food distribution programs.


4)   The United States has been the principal donor to

Zimbabwe’s food crisis, with generous contributions also

coming from the United Kingdom and the European Union.

Additional assistance from other donors is needed to

meet Zimbabwe’s food needs.


5)   While Southern Africa’s drought is a factor in the

food crisis, the Government of Zimbabwe needs to face

the fact that it also bears responsibility for the

situation. Macroeconomic mismanagement (including

deficit spending, a grossly overvalued currency,

multiple exchange rates, and unrealistic price

controls), a violent and chaotic land redistribution

program that has badly damaged the nation’s agricultural

sector, and a disregard for the rule of law that has

driven foreign investment away, have all played a

substantial role in creating conditions under which more

than half of all Zimbabweans need food aid.


6)   The United States will not politicize its food

assistance to Zimbabwe. In spite of our serious

concerns about the actions and policies of the

Zimbabwean government, we will not abandon the people of

Zimbabwe at this time of need.


7)   We are working closely with the World Food Program

and our bilateral NGO partners to make sure that the

food we provide is distributed on a non-partisan basis.


8)   The food crisis will also significantly aggravate

the health conditions for people who are HIV positive

and people living with AIDS. Zimbabwe is at the

epicenter of the epidemic with the second highest HIV

prevalence in the world – 35%. It is estimated that

over 2,000 people a week are dying from complications

due to AIDS in Zimbabwe.





Background on the Media:



5. (U) The Zimbabwean media are deeply polarized. The

privately owned media are generally critical of the

Government of Zimbabwe and sympathetic to U.S. policy

and programs in Zimbabwe. The state-owned media are

slavishly pro-Government and reflect the GOZ’s distrust

of the West. Both media camps will distort stories to

reflect their points of view, but distortions in the

private media are generally less extreme. Zimbabwean

journalists from both camps are polite and not terribly

aggressive. International media will also be present

and will be important for re-broadcast into Zimbabwe as

well as for the international audience. Specifically,

we expect representatives from the Associated Press,

Reuters, Agence France Presse, Voice of America, the

South African Broadcasting Company (SABC), the Times of

London and the Guardian to be present.


6. (U) The Government of Zimbabwe (GoZ) has deliberately

and successfully limited media freedom and the flow of

information into and out of Zimbabwe.   The majority of

Zimbabweans must rely on heavily propagandistic

government media for news and analysis of local and

international events. The flow of news out of Zimbabwe

has been restricted through the expulsion of once-

resident foreign journalists and refusals to grant visas

to international journalists wishing to visit.


7. (U) Radio is the most influential medium in Zimbabwe.

The GoZ has a monopoly on local broadcast media and they

offer only unrelenting pro-government propaganda. One

independent broadcaster, Voice of the People, maintained

offices in Zimbabwe and provided news and information

via Dutch short wave facilities until its Harare office

was completely destroyed by a sophisticated firebombing

in late August 2002. Another short wave broadcaster,

Short Wave Radio Africa, provides news and information

from studios in the United Kingdom. Anecdotal

information indicates that short wave broadcasters have

only small audiences.


8. (U) Urban Zimbabweans have access to a courageous

independent press consisting of one daily and three

weeklies (the Daily News, Financial Gazette, Zimbabwe

Independent, and the Standard).   Prices, logistical

challenges, and the fact that pro-government forces have

banned the distribution of independent newspapers in

rural areas means that most rural Zimbabweans (60% of

the population) have no access to these publications.

The independent press is under steady pressure from the

GoZ and pro-government forces. Arrests of editors and

reporters are common and the Daily News has twice been

bombed, most recently in January 2001 in a sophisticated

attack that completely destroyed the paper’s presses.

No arrests have been made. The Daily News recently

replaced its presses. A new media registration law, to

come into force later this year, is likely to result in

increased arrests and harassment of journalists working

for the independent press.


9. (U) The GoZ owns and exercises tight editorial

control over two dailies and three weeklies (the Herald,

Chronicle, Sunday Mail, Sunday News and Manica Post).

Although the circulation of these papers has seen a

steady decline, they are generally the only newspapers

available in rural Zimbabwe. There is a distinct double

standard in the application of media control laws to the

independent and government-owned media.


10. (U) Over the last 18 months, non-Zimbabweans working

for the BBC, Agence France Presse, the Mail and Guardian

(South Africa) and other international media have been

forced to leave the country. BBC has explicitly been

banned. The new media registration law is likely to

result in the closure of the Associated Press, Reuters

and AFP bureaus in Zimbabwe, all currently staffed by

Zimbabwean citizens.   The GoZ routinely denies visas to

journalists who openly apply to visit the country for

reporting purposes.


Questions & Answers:



1. Question:


What do you see as the critical challenges the GOZ and

donors face in dealing with the humanitarian crisis?




One of the biggest challenges being faced right now is

NGO capacity to efficiently and effectively distribute

food aid. The World Food Program (WFP) needs to

increase the number of NGOs who can deliver food aid

and, in this regard, the GOZ must expeditiously review

and process NGO registration applications to improve

WFP’s ability to distribute food to vulnerable

Zimbabweans. The second challenge relates to the amount

of available food. The latest Vulnerability Assessment

indicates that the number of people in need of food

assistance in Zimbabwe has increased from 6 million to

6.7 million; the amount of food aid requested has risen

to 486,000 mt from the initial requested amount of

453,000 mt. The GOZ has also committed itself to import

at least 650,000 mt. It is critical that these food

requirements be met. Otherwise, we will experience a

severe food gap and the situation will deteriorate



2. Question:


What is the effect U.S. “sanctions” (under the Zimbabwe

Democracy and Economic Recovery Act) against Zimbabwe on

the U.S. program to respond to the humanitarian crisis?




The United States Government is committed to providing

food assistance to help the most needy affected by the

food crisis in Zimbabwe. We do so, however, with our

eyes open to the fact the Government of Zimbabwe bears

much of a responsibility for the growing humanitarian

crisis in Zimbabwe and the region.


Feel free to defer the remaining part of the answer to

Ambassador Sullivan


The Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZDERA)

is not a sanctions bill. It is a set of incentives

designed, as the New York Times reported, to “lure

Zimbabwe back to democracy.” The bill offers US$26

million (Z$1.4 billion at the official exchange rate) to

support land reform, basic human rights and economic

development. To gain this support, the Government of

Zimbabwe was asked to restore the rule of law; create

conditions conducive to free and fair presidential

elections; and make a commitment to an equitable, legal

and transparent land reform program inter alia.


Since the Government of Zimbabwe chose not to accept

ZDERA’s recommendations, in February 2002 President Bush

implemented targeted measures against a number of

selected Zimbabwean officials. These measures include

travel and financial restrictions. These measures do

not include any actions to hurt the people of Zimbabwe.

U.S. Government programs, including humanitarian food

donations, the Ambassador’s Self-Help Program, HIV/Aids

prevention and treatment efforts, and educational and

cultural programs, remain intact.



3. Question:


Will the U.S. sanctions against Zimbabwe result in the

termination of the USAID development program?




Feel free to defer this to Ambassador Sullivan.


Again, I note that ZDERA does not impose any broad-based

sanctions against the people of Zimbabwe. Rather, it

targets senior members of the government of Robert

Mugabe and other Zimbabwean nationals who formulate,

implement or benefit from policies that undermine or

injure Zimbabwean democratic institutions. ZDERA also

affects persons who, through their business dealings

with Zimbabwean government officials, derive significant

financial benefits from policies that undermine or

injure Zimbabwe’s democratic institutions. Spouses of

affected persons also face travel restrictions.


The U.S. Government remains committed to assisting the

people of Zimbabwe in their hour of need and will not

curtail humanitarian assistance as a result of ZDERA.


4. Question:


What is the USG’s position regarding allegations of

partisanship or political manipulation in the

distribution of food?




The United States condemns the political manipulation of

food aid. Although to the best of our knowledge there

has been no interference with USG-donated food, many

credible reports exist of politicization of GOZ-supplied

food. We are deeply concerned about such allegations

and urge the Government of Zimbabwe to work

collaboratively with the UN and the international

community to assure that all food is distributed in an

impartial and transparent manner.


5. Question:


Why is the U.S. providing biotech food to Zimbabwe and

what effect will this have on the USG’s ability to

respond to the humanitarian crisis? Why can’t the U.S.

simply sign the GM certificates requested by the

Government of Zimbabwe? The USG keeps saying that

“there is no evidence that biotech food is harmful,” but

that is not the same as saying that biotech food is

guaranteed to be safe. The issues of transgenic

mutation and unintended side effects do not seem

completely resolved. Why can’t the US avoid these

concerns by providing non-biotech maize, or providing

money so that relief agencies can buy non-biotech maize

from other sources?




To begin with, we are very pleased that the Government

of Zimbabwe and WFP have worked out an arrangement for

the acceptance of the first shipment of whole kernel

biotech maize. We urge that this agreement be followed

quickly by others to accept all the food that we are

prepared to donate to alleviate the food crisis in

Zimbabwe. We believe this arrangement recognizes that

the food provided by the U.S. to Zimbabwe is the same as

that consumed by Americans. Biotech crops are subject

to a rigorous safety review by the USDA, FDA, and EPA.

The food is eaten by millions of Americans and to date

no evidence has shown any negative health implications.

This has been stated categorically by the WHO and WFP.

Countries all over the world, including South Africa,

China and Brazil, produce biotech food. This advanced

technology has helped make seeds more resistant to such

ravages as pests and drought, and holds great promise

for increased agricultural productivity in Africa.


6. Question:


What is the U.S. position on the causes of the current

food crisis in Zimbabwe? What should the GOZ be doing

to address the crisis?




The food crisis in Zimbabwe is highly complex and

multifaceted. Although the regional drought has

undoubtedly been a real factor in the food shortages in

Zimbabwe, the situation has been greatly exacerbated by

the policies and actions of the Government of Zimbabwe.

Shortfalls in agricultural production in Zimbabwe — due

in very large measure to government-sponsored, chaotic,

and often violent seizures of commercial farms and

failed economic policies — are having a direct impact

on food availability and prices throughout the region.

Other counterproductive Government of Zimbabwe policies

— such as the GMB monopoly on grain imports, price

controls and unrealistic exchange rates — have

hamstrung the private sector and contributed to the food

crisis. Foreign exchange shortages – themselves a

result of counterproductive government policies – also

limit Zimbabwe’s ability to procure and import food and

essential agricultural commodities. All of these issues

also affect Zimbabwe’s ability to resume agricultural

production and, hence, mitigate the crisis.


The United States Government will continue to provide

food assistance to help the most needy affected by the

food crisis in Zimbabwe, but we do so with our eyes open

to the fact that the Government of Zimbabwe bears much

of the responsibility for the growing humanitarian

crisis in Zimbabwe and the region. The GOZ urgently

needs to address the policy problems that have

substantially contributed to this crisis, carry through

on its commitment to import food and distribute food in

an equitable and transparent manner with need as the

only criterion.


7. Question:


How much has the U.S. given in food assistance to

Zimbabwe? Why is the USG doing so much to provide food

to Zimbabwe even as it criticizes the GOZ so harshly?

Don’t you think that your food assistance may be helping

the government of Robert Mugabe to remain in power?




To date, the U.S. has approved the provision of 106,630

MTs of food assistance (valued at US$56 million) to

Zimbabwe (approximately 43,000MT has arrived in country

to date). Within the southern African region, Zimbabwe

is the country that is most severely affected by the

current food crisis. The people and government of the

United States are strongly committed to providing

substantial resources to Zimbabwe to respond to this

crisis. Yes, the GOZ bears much of the responsibility

for the crisis, but we will not abandon the Zimbabweans

who are suffering because of the actions of their



8. Question:


What is the U.S. position on land reform in Zimbabwe and

why hasn’t the U.S. lived up to its commitments to

support land reform made at the Lancaster House

negotiations in 1979 and the 1998 donors’ conference?




The U.S. believes that land reform in Zimbabwe should be

implemented in transparent, equitable and consultative

manner in accordance with the rule of law. That means

it should be done without the illegal occupation of

farms, violence, or the displacement of farm laborers.

The U.S. did not commit, at the Lancaster House

negotiations or otherwise, to provide funds for the

purchase of land. Since 1980, however, we have provided

millions of dollars of assistance to the agricultural

sector, including funding for Zimbabwe to benefit from

the expertise of the University of Wisconsin’s Land

Tenure Center, which is widely recognized as the

preeminent center of expertise in land reform from its

30 years of work throughout the world. The USG also

committed at the 1998 Donors’ Conference to support a

transparent, sustainable and lawfully executed land

redistribution program; the GOZ instead decided to carry

out a land redistribution program in a manner which

violated every one of these principles.


9. Question:


What support is the USG/USAID providing to Zimbabwean

civil society, especially those involved in promoting

democratic values?




Feel free to defer to Ambassador Sullivan.


In 1998, we entered into a grant agreement with

Government of Zimbabwe that established a program to

support Zimbabwean civil society. A big component of

this program involves finding ways to improve dialogue

between Parliament and civil society.

10. Question:


What is your response to rumors that the Government of

Zimbabwe is preparing new legislation to enable it to

have greater influence on the operations of PVOs?




I have not seen the new legislation that you are

referring to and, therefore, I cannot comment on it.

Having said that, in general we believe it is important

for the Government of Zimbabwe to create an environment

in which NGOs can effectively carry out their critical

roles as part of civil society, including participating

in the distribution of emergency assistance during the

current humanitarian crisis. We all know the

tremendously helpful roles that NGO’s, such as World

Vision, Care, CRS and many others, have played here in

Zimbabwe in delivering food assistance, working on

health and HIV-AIDS projects and many other areas. We

certainly would hope that the GOZ not deal with NGO’s as

an enemy to to be hamstrung but as a key support to the

Zimbabwean people. SULLIVAN



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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


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