Zimbabwe media and the war in Iraq


The Zimbabwean media, both state-owned and privately owned, used the war in Iraq to advance their own political messages though in most cases their sources of news were the same.

The government-controlled media spin was to show the United States as an uncaring, neo-colonialist hegemony while the people of Iraq were portrayed as courageous, principled victims.

The privately-owned media tried to spin the events in Iraq to support their own political agenda. The main message was that dictators faced serious consequences and once Saddam Hussein was gone, the world should turn its attention to Zimbabwe.


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Viewing cable 03HARARE678, Zimbabwean Media and Public Opinion on War in

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Reference ID






2003-04-07 06:39

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: Zimbabwean Media and Public Opinion on War in






1.   (SBU) Summary: In spite of efforts by both

government-owned and privately owned media to spin war

news for local political purposes, the conflict in Iraq

remains a distant concern for the great majority of

Zimbabweans. Public opinion is quietly anti-war and

tends to reflect public opinion toward the Government

of Zimbabwe: Government supporters oppose the war, and

critics of the government, while not gung-ho supporters

of the Coalition, show some sympathy for the need to

depose Saddam Hussein. The Government of Zimbabwe

(GOZ) has expressed strong opposition to the war and

argues that U.S. actions in Iraq represent a threat to

Zimbabwe and the world. Popular opinion is not greatly

influenced by GOZ attempts to portray the war as a

threat to Zimbabwe. On the street, there is no sign of

the war other than newspaper headlines. There have

been no demonstrations or graffiti related to the war,

and the war does not dominate our casual, day-to-day

contact with Zimbabweans. For most Zimbabweans, the

war in Iraq is so far removed from their daily lives

that they treat it more like a movie or the latest TV

“reality” show than a serious geo-political conflict.

End summary.




——————————————— ——-


Zimbabwean Media “Spin” War News in Different


——————————————— ——-


2.   (SBU) Both sides of Zimbabwe’s polarized media are

seeking to use the war in Iraq to advance political

messages. Government-owned media get top honors,

though, for both quantity and shrillness of their

messages. Government-owned dailies “The Herald” and

“The Chronicle” offer readers a mixture of sensational

headlines over reasonably straightforward wire service

(primarily AFP and Reuters) stories, and staunchly anti-

US opinion pieces from obscure left-wing news services

and local pundits.


3.   (U) The front page of the April 2 “Herald”

illustrates GOZ attitudes toward the war and the way

government editors manipulate the news. A reasonably

responsible AFP report on the tragedy of Iraqi

civilians killed when their vehicle failed to stop at a

roadblock was reprinted under an above-the-fold, blood-

red banner that read “US Massacres 48 – Victims include

women, children.” The op-ed spread in the same edition

gave a full page to two stories: “US Lies Exposed” and

“US, UK Conflict Over Spoils of War.” These stories

came from an international Trotskyite organization.


4.   (U) All free-to-air broadcast media in Zimbabwe is

owned and tightly controlled by the GOZ. As a result,

average Zimbabweans receive a steady diet of distinctly

anti-American radio and television reports and news

“analysis.” Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC)

television news focuses on Iraqi civilian casualties,

and tends to feature video loops alternating between

Iraqi government officials in press conferences and

images of wounded Iraqi children. ZBC also produces a

nightly discussion program on Iraq, called “U.S.-UK

Invasion of Iraq,” that invites mostly anti-American

Zimbabweans to discuss the war.


5.   (SBU) The purpose of government media spin is

clear: Show the US to be an uncaring, neo-colonialist

hegemon and show the Iraqis to be courageous,

principled victims.   This spin complements the GOZ’s

campaign to cast itself as a courageous and principled

government standing up to an uncaring neo-colonialist

hegemon. Government media have not dedicated any time

or space to examining Saddam Hussein’s history or style

of government. The GOZ and its media have long made

use of external enemies to deflect public attention

from the real causes of Zimbabwe’s problems.

Traditionally, the UK has been the primary target of

these campaigns. The war in Iraq, however, has given

the GOZ an opportunity to cast the U.S. as the most

dangerous enemy, so we have temporarily replaced the

British in GOZ propaganda efforts.


6.   (U) Privately owned media provide more responsible

coverage of the war, but are also trying to spin events

in Iraq to support their political agendas. War

coverage, mostly straight from Reuters and AP, is

published in inside pages. Headlines are

dispassionate. Op-ed writers, though, have seized on

the principle that dictators face serious consequences.

A few have suggested that the world should turn its

attention to Zimbabwe once Saddam Hussein has been

removed from power. The privately owned media have

published news stories and op-ed pieces that raise the

issues of Saddam Hussein’s human rights record, use of

WMD, and attacks against neighboring countries.

Overall, Zimbabwe’s private media provide generally

balanced news reporting while using the example of

Saddam Hussein to highlight Zimbabwe’s own problems

with autocratic leadership



Iraq Debate is a Luxury for Most


7.   (SBU) While countervailing government and private

media spin may provide some diversion for Zimbabwe’s

elite, the war is of little consequence to the great

majority of Zimbabweans. Most Zimbabweans feel no

particular connection to Iraq, are not Muslim, and are

fully occupied with the day-to-day pressures of making

ends meet in Zimbabwe’s dysfunctional economy and

highly charged political environment. There have been

no anti-US or pro-Iraq demonstrations in Zimbabwe, nor

any apparent rejection of the American cultural symbols

(food outlets, clothing styles, music) among young

Zimbabweans. Embassy officers and their families have

encountered almost no Iraq-related hostility from



8.   (U) Among the elite (generally people with access

to international news sources), attitude toward the war

in Iraq correlates positively to attitude toward the

government of Robert Mugabe. The more strongly an

individual supports Mugabe, the more likely it is he or

she will oppose the war against Saddam Hussein. Among

these people, the prevalent perceptions are that the

war is for control of Iraqi oil, that the U.S. is again

demonstrating its “cowboy” or “global cop” approach to

the world, and that the death of Iraqi civilians proves

that America is amoral and relieves the U.S. of any

right to complain about human rights in Zimbabwe. The

elite who favor reform in Zimbabwe tend to see the war

in Iraq in more nuanced terms. Only a few strongly

support the war. These few are the same people who

would like to see coalition military forces drive

straight from Baghdad to Harare. Most reform-minded

elite Zimbabweans appreciate the dimensions of Saddam

Hussein’s crimes and are sympathetic to the imperative

of deposing him. Many of them, however, are not

persuaded that the U.S. was right to act without full

UN backing and believe that we should have given

diplomacy more time. Many of these people are also

concerned that U.S. action has damaged the UN and that

the long-term result of the war will be to create many

more fanatics determined to attack the U.S.



Action Show?


9.   (SBU) Perhaps the most telling illustration of

Zimbabwean popular attitude toward the war is the way

audiences react to war video. The Embassy’s public

affairs section is standing-room only each day when it

shows international television news of the war. On

occasion, the almost exclusively male audience will

break into cheers and applause for some telegenic bit

of violence (e.g., a burning tank, or an especially

large explosion). The Zimbabwean audience doesn’t seem

to care whether the violence is against Coalition or

Iraqi forces – they just enjoy the spectacle. The

conclusion we draw from this is that, for most

Zimbabweans, the war is simply not real; it is so

remote that audiences relate to it the way they might

relate to an action movie. They may identify more

closely with the Iraqis than the Americans, but it is

not a passionate identification. In the end, we

suspect that many Zimbabweans will want to identify

with the winners and that long-term resentment of U.S.

action in Iraq will be limited to the pro-government






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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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