The old adage that truth is the first casualty in a war rings true with each passing day as political contest for power heats up is never far off the mark when one looks at developments in Zimbabwe over the past fortnight.
The government fretting over President Robert Mugabe health and that of his wife has started implemented underhand tactics to manipulate news coverage. The state’s paranoia was exposed at Harare International Airport when journalists captured images of Mugabe on all fours after he tripped and fell on the red carpet after addressing his supporters and media upon his return from Ethiopia.
The security agents in a show of force deleted all images of Mugabe in the embarrassing position from journalists’ cameras despite the event had just happened in full glare of the people gathered at the airport.
Information minister Jonathan Moyo last week revealed the government was ready to censor coverage of Mugabe in future or even bar private media from covering him altogether like in the hectic years after 2000.
Moyo told the media that the state had learnt hard lessons on new media technology in the wake of Mugabe’s sprawled images going viral on social media and mainstream international news agencies despite having forced journalists to delete the pictures.
“These digital devices have built in facilities for things that are deleted to remain alive for at least thirty days. So next time, we have learnt that we should not delete, we should take the devices (sic),” said Moyo.
The minister had no qualms in defending the brazen muzzling of the media by security agents arguing the world over security details delete inappropriate images of leaders.
“No one really who is experienced and normal will have any problems with security officials deleting footage or images they think are not okay. The Vatican does that, the police at the Vatican if you take pictures there they will delete.
“If you go to that sacred temple in Cambodia and you take pictures of yourself nude and so forth like some French people were doing a few weeks ago, the police come, they will delete. That is an appropriate reaction, if they don’t delete they deserve to be fired,” he said.
As if an afterthought, Moyo chillingly reminded the private media the government would not hesitate to ban private media from attending state functions if it does not play ball.
“If they become irresponsible and unrealistic in their behaviour we will remind them that is exactly the reason why we were not inviting you before,” warned Moyo.
This is not an idle threat as Moyo during his first stint as Information minister in 2000 had a bad relationship with private media and in the process forced closure of two papers the Daily News and Tribune for breaching the obnoxious AIPPA.
The government then as an official position was not granting interviews to private and foreign media or even inviting them to public state events.
This new development is not isolated as at the weekend Mugabe spokesman George Charamba redefined what a public personality in reference to First Lady Grace.
“She is not a civil servant; she is not a constitutional officer. Why do you pry into the life of a private citizen in the name of news?” Charamba questioned.
It remains curious that the First Family can now choose to be private despite living on public funds and imposing their political beliefs on the majority through public media. Grace in the run up to the December Zanu PF congress had ten rallies across the country which were covered live on both state radio and television which she used to bludgeon her political opponents into submission.
These developments should be read in the context of escalating political contest in Zanu PF and the looming 2018 general elections where Mugabe 91 this weekend has already been endorsed as the party’s candidate despite his advanced age and failing health.
Read in this context, it becomes easier to understand why Moyo spent $1,6 million in setting up the Information Media Panel of Inquiry (IMPI). It becomes clear that he has an obsession with controlling information production, packaging and distribution to suit his political thinking.
For once, there is no doubt that Zimbabwe is learning well from its Chinese counterparts on information and media control as it pursues its Look East Policy. The media once again is at crossroads as Zanu PF consolidates its grip on the nation in a battle to rule till end of time.