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Zimbabwe's media problems remain

Mugabe uses newspapers and broadcasting to retain grip on power.

Zimbabwe newspaper
Zimbabwe's newspapers are dominated by the state-owned Herald, which is controlled by President Robert Mugabe. (Desmond Kwande/AFP/Getty Images)

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe’s fractured press is unlikely to see a recovery despite the intervention of Unesco — the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization — which has been hosting a major conference of media players this week, the first such gathering since President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai agreed to form a government of national unity last year.

Mugabe and Tsvangirai have been at daggers drawn since the formation of the unity government in 2009 and Zimbabwe's media reflects the deep divisions in the two camps.

Mugabe and his inner circle see the news media as an agency of political control. Their Zanu-PF party presides over a stable of state-owned newspapers which act as the president’s apologists and cheerleaders. In addition all broadcasting is state-owned and therefore all television and radio remains in the hands of Mugabe’s cronies who daily excoriate Tsvangirai as a tool of British and American imperialism.

Mugabe’s aim is to use the media to reverse the gains made by Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change in the 2008 election. He is backed by a cabal in the police and armed forces which holds the prime minister in open contempt.

Despite an agreement to work together for reform — the so-called Global Political Agreement of 2008 — there has been very little harmony between Mugabe and Tsvangirai. Mugabe’s loyalists occupy key ministries including those of agriculture, security and the media, and they exclude Tsvangirai and the MDC from key national decisions such as who should be buried at Heroes Acre, the national shrine.

Zanu-PF recently refused to recognize veteran trade unionist Gibson Sibanda as deserving of hero’s status because he had not fought in the bush war that brought Mugabe to power.