Cablegate: Zimbabwean Media and Public Opinion On War In

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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