Cablegate: Influence Analysis -- Zimbabwe

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

Introduction: Public Diplomacy Environment

1. (SBU) Zimbabwe's media operating environment is
restrictive and becoming increasingly harsh. The GOZ's
Media and Information Commission (MIC) closed the only
independent daily newspaper, the Daily News, and has
threatened other independent newspapers and journalists with
legal action. Security forces and ruling party supporters
harassed, intimidated, and beat journalists. Authorities
arbitrarily detained journalists and refused to investigate
or punish those who assaulted journalists. Journalists
practiced self-censorship. Most foreign journalists have
been expelled from or denied entry to the country.
Compounding the repressive legal environment are a deep-
seated political polarization that cleaves society and the
ruling party's refusal to engage meaningfully with the
opposition on any issue of import.

2. (SBU) Several major daily newspapers and one local-
language tabloid belong to the Mass Media Trust (MMT), a
holding company heavily influenced by the ruling party, ZANU-
PF. The Government, through the MMT, controlled two daily
newspapers, the Chronicle and the Herald. With the demise
of The Daily News, the Herald is the most read newspaper in
the country. Government-controlled newspapers generally are
read with considerable skepticism by educated urban
populations but are influential among ruling party faithful.
News coverage in the MMT newspapers generally focuses on the
activities of government officials, neglects opposition
parties and other antigovernment groups, and also downplays
events or information that reflect adversely on the
Government. They are relentless in their portrayal of the
USG as part of a conspiracy (including white farmers and the
United Kingdom) to overthrow the GOZ. The Minister for
Information and Publicity controls the Zimbabwe Inter-Africa
News Agency wire service. Nonetheless, the Mission is
trying to cultivate latent interest among numerous
journalists from the official media who see value in a
cordial albeit discreet relationship.

3. (SBU) In addition to the Daily News, which had the
nation's largest circulation until its closure, there are
three independent major weeklies (the Financial Gazette, the
Independent, and the Standard), and three monthlies that
continued to operate despite threats and pressure from the
Government. The major independent newspapers continue to
monitor government policies and publish stories critical of
the government, but most of them also continued to exercise
self-censorship in reporting due to growing government
intimidation and the continuing prospect of prosecution
under criminal libel and security laws. They are read
principally in urban areas. The Mission's Information
Resource Center, which records about 100,000 visits per
year, is another source of independent information among
those in the capital.

4. (SBU) Radio remains the most important medium of public
communication, particularly for the majority of the
population living in rural areas. The Government continued
to control all domestic radio broadcasting stations through
the state-owned Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC),
supervised by the Minister for Information and Publicity in
the President's Office. There are credible reports that the
Minister routinely reviews ZBC news and repeatedly excises
reports on the activities of groups and organizations
opposed to or critical of the Government. There are only
two independent short wave radio broadcasts in the country;
however, it is unclear how many citizens could actually
listen to short wave broadcasts. Voice of America (VOA)
broadcasts a 1-hour program five times a week on short wave
and AM featuring interviews with local opinion makers on a
range of topics in English, Shona, and Ndebele. Short Wave
Radio Africa broadcast daily from the United Kingdom, using
local sources and reporters.

5. (SBU) The Government controls all domestic television
broadcasting stations, and ZBC owns and operates television
broadcasting facilities. Broadcast media coverage's biases
mirror those of the government-controlled print media. The
Government continues to refuse to lease broadcast time to
Joy TV, the only privately licensed television station, and
it remained off the air. International television
broadcasts were available freely through private satellite
firms; however, the requirement that payment must be made
exclusively in foreign currency made it unavailable for most

MPP Goal: Democratic System and Practices

6. (SBU) It is hard to get our message out. Given GOZ
hostility to the USG, principal avenues to engage on
democracy issues are via personal engagement with selected
influential individuals within or close to the government
and widespread electronic dissemination of USG
positions/statements (e.g., The Washington File) to press
outlets, academics, and NGOs. Effective placements in the
official media regarding U.S. policy on democracy and human
rights are rare in undistorted form. Efforts to place
pieces in the independent weeklies yield modest success,
which generally is constrained by self-censorship and the
weeklies' limited readership. Public diplomacy through
engagement with Zimbabwe's broad network of NGOs is
handicapped by severe GOZ pressure on NGOs that share our
objectives, especially in their information dissemination
activities, and by the NGOs' limited reach to key audiences.
Prospects for being able to describe and defend U.S.
policies effectively in the foreseeable future are not good.
Demonization of the United States is a principal GOZ tactic
in attempting to unify and to motivate its supporters; the
GOZ can be counted on to continue resisting and actively
suppressing dissenting views generally, and positive
portrayals of the USG in particular. Accordingly, foremost
among mission priorities is amendment of draconian legal and
practical restrictions on freedom of speech but favorable
government action is not likely in the foreseeable future.

MPP Goal: Assistance for Refugees and Other Victims

7. (SBU) The environment for public diplomacy in this area
is complicated, notwithstanding the generous levels of
humanitarian assistance we lavish on Zimbabwe each year. A
constant tension exists between the GOZ and donors over the
GOZ's desire to direct to its supporters, project control
over, and take credit for food distribution and public
health services, the principal areas of our assistance in
Zimbabwe. This tension is expected to sharpen in the run-up
to national parliamentary elections scheduled for next
March. GOZ efforts to control food and health resources
already are increasing and official news outlets and public
officials are manipulating coverage to political advantage
and downplaying the impact of donor activities.
Nonetheless, we are enjoying some success in placing
articles about USG assistance, and our contacts in the GOZ
and NGO community represent strong channels for personal

MPP Goal: Global Health

8. (SBU) Government suspicion of USG motives has
complicated public diplomacy efforts in this area as well.
For example, the Ministry of Information prevented
transmission of a USG-funded innovative radio soap opera to
heighten HIV/AIDS awareness, despite strong support from
civil society and the Ministry of Public Health.
Nevertheless, the official media has been willing to print
material accurately describing USG activities in support of
USG objectives. In addition, USAID and CDC have
collaborated on successful media and community-based
behavior change communication programs targeting youth and
young adults. The mission is working with faith-based
organizations to influence behavior at the community level
and is expanding the role of family planning community-based
outreach workers to include HIV/AIDS prevention activities.
As with other areas of humanitarian assistance, our contacts
in relevant ministries and civil society effectively
buttress the limited public diplomacy opportunities
available through traditional media.

MPP Goal: American Values Respected Abroad

9. (SBU) Our goal is to strengthen the pillars of
democracy, including a free flow of information and support
for a free press. Zimbabwe's ever-shrinking atmosphere to
support free debate is an overarching obstacle that
increasingly handicaps our efforts across the board.
Accordingly, we attach high priority in collaborating with
Zimbabwean individuals and institutions that share our
objectives to ameliorate the draconian laws and policies
used to stifle information flow. Given the hostile
environment, our strategy must be flexible and
opportunistic, essentially employing all the means referred
to above: media placements where possible; widespread
electronic dissemination of materials to influential
players; academic events; and personal engagement.


© Scoop Media

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