Politics: Where the media goes against journalism

Mliswa-MutasaThe Other Side  with Nathaniel Manheru
It must be a very difficult period for America, Obama especially. There is no rhyme, no reason, to the workings of the world that America has made.

Everything looks Frankensteinian, all proving runaway, unknown and unknowable.

Not such a burden for mere mortals, whose very humanity is founded on a limited ken. But not so for gods, who should know, make and determine everything. And America regards itself as a god, the only one in fact.

A real monotheist god, politically that is. Godliness rests in the power to make reality, to write and dispose of rules of life and nations, as meets the creator’s caprices. And Shakespeare had his finger on the whimsical proclivity of gods. He wrote: “As flies to wanton boys are we to th’ gods/ They kill us for their sport”.

A god who fears death

Iraq, originally America’s touchstone in destroying and remaking a nation, in destroying and resurrecting a people, in destroying the world and remaking it in seven days, is on the boil, clearly recalcitrantly spinning out of control of its maker.

ISIS has been on the rampage, in spite of America’s high-altitude bombings. Why a god should pelt mere man, admittedly dangerous, from so on high, from the safety of the chemo-sphere, as if he can die, as if he can be killed by puny man, only the Americans can explain.

Or is it some kind of playful condescension, god-like? They have been bombing from safety, and like all of us recoiling from death, these Americans. And much like an inflated balloon under pressure, ISIS has been redistributing itself, resurfacing behind or even away from these high-altitude bombings, this most versatile insurgency.

And across boundaries too, yet another indication that it now enjoys an omnipresence akin to that of the god it fights. The laws of war are being rewritten, the laws of dialectics are at work, with a given “godly” thesis provoking an “Islamic” antithesis, only with no synthesis yet in sight.

Wanton slaughter in

American Eden

I mean the assault on Islamic militancy, right from the days of Osama, has been multinational — a coalition of the willing — to use Bush’s favourite yet meaningless phrase. To match the expanse of the assault, the insurgency has had to reinvent itself, assuming multinational and even multi-ideological forms.

We saw it in miniature with Boko Haram, our own scourge on the continent. Once the response against it became multinational, subregional, the insurgents quickly pledged loyalty to ISIS, thereby enhancing the African component to the whole question of global insurgency.

As I write, Al Shabaab has struck again in Kenya, this time at some university campus, killing nearly 200 innocent souls. Similarly, in Yemen and quite apart from the sectarian fight ripping that country apart, Al Qaeda has taken advantage of the mayhem in that country to successfully break a jail holding some of its most deadly fighters and leaders.

All told, 270 prisoners have been freed by a force also opposed to both Houthis and Americans, who are also not friends. Given the use of religion on both sides of this multi-layered conflict, you would think the holy heavens are split, yet again.

When a people


There is another worrisome dimension. All these insurgent organisation are attracting high calibre people, not mere hoodlums or bigots from the slums. Cream of the Arab world, a significant component of it in the diaspora, pursuing higher studies.

It can hardly be read as a question of social conditions, Marx’s mantra. These organisations are attracting medical students, science students and many such high calibre personalities with great prospects, both at home and abroad.

Now, you can’t tell me this owes to seductive internet messages of ISIS or Al Qaeda, as western propaganda would want us to believe. It is plain silly. Why would people of such depth and profound judgment gravitate towards danger irrationally?

Some even getting to the stage of volunteering to work behind ISIS lines, to repair the injured, heal the sick, counsel the buffeted. Given these high pursuits, such a mischaracterisation amounts to a wilful insult to Arab intellect, a wilful denial by those intent of stereotyping Arab insurgency as gratuitously irrational.

Poor black propaganda, one hardly new in history. We saw it here with our armed struggle. There was no African grievance; only gullible Africans misled by communists! For how long shall such wilful disinformation continue to thrive as if the world is no inch wiser?

One great truth has to be admitted: the continual aggression against the Arab world and personality by American-led western forces has triggered a survivalist blow-back in which the Arab personality is being defended, reasserted, often in baffling, self-immolating ways. It happens in any environment of occupation, aggression and prolonged hostilities.

Reluctant to

leave celestial throne

But I am more interested in ways in which the American god has become mere man: un-encompassing, baffled like the proverbial chameleon on chequered clothing. In the war against ISIS in Iraq, Tikrit was the trophy.

This town was birthplace to Saddam Hussein, the Iraq president America deposed and then executed by proxy. There is a very strong indication that the bulk of ISIS fighters draw from Saddam’s defeated army, until now inert and recumbent.

The continued occupation and triumph of ISIS in Tikrit would have been a humiliating recall for America, a reversal of her “gains” in rebuilding a “brave new” world in which Saddam and his ethos would have been exorcised totally.

But because America the god would not want to leave the celestial chair and sceptre, to fight human wars, America has had to subcontract the fight in Tikrit to mere men, Iranians in this case. The Iranians who were always in, always in as the real beneficiaries of a post-Hussein Iraq which America made, extended their operations and neutralised ISIS. America celebrated. The world noted.

Responding to

Iranian diplomacy

Meanwhile elsewhere in the Middle East, Yemen to be specific, another vicious conflict was gathering and would soon be underway, with the sitting president losing to an advancing insurgent force called the Houthis.

Aligned to Yemen’s former leader and to Iran, these insurgents made rapid advances and were poised to take over the country. They even forced an unscheduled evacuation of American special forces lodged in that country, ostensibly to fight Al Qaeda.

Then the unexpected happened. Saudi Arabia and a few Sunni allies who include Egypt, mounted a multinational aerial operation against the winning Houthis, bringing the advance to a temporary halt, amidst massive civilian deaths and destruction.

The intervention operation had been modelled along American lines: they bombed from on high. After all, countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan had been part of the American aerial bombardment of ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

As I write, a contingent of pro-Houthis special forces has landed at Aden, possibly embedding hardened Iranians, preparing the stage for a bruising fight pitting Shiites against Sunnis in the whole Middle East and the Persian Gulf.

It remains to be seen whether or not a combined Sunni army will be on Yemen soil, descending from the skies or swimming from the waters. And here is the question: how does the same Iran which routs ISIS in Tikrit to US cheer, help rout an unpopular government in Yemen to American jeer? In Iraq, US has lived with a pro-Iranian regime; why won’t it in Yemen?

In Syria, US has had to learn to love Assad, against ISIS, again thanks to Iran; why will it not in Yemen? Clearly the Iranians are forcing love and hate on the god, forcing that same god not to make choices, but to pick between limited choices made by mere mortals.

Today America has entered the sectarian fight of the Arab world, hardly an edifying parameter for a foreign policy of our great anti-Christ. It fights with the Shiites in Iraq and Syria; it fights with Sunnis in Yemen. In Libya it cuts and runs.

In Somalia, it drones. Not out of a deft management of foreign policy and military capabilities, but because it’s foreign policy has gone adrift, like its dollar. It is responding to Iran, which has cleverly put back on the table the issue of nuclear technology, and this at a time when Obama is indebted to Iran, and embattled by Bibi and his Republican political Gurkhas. So much to see for those in our midst who think America is a saviour, a god. Oh America, thou art a mere mortal!

Solving the succession


Joice Mujuru has been expelled from the party, which had to happen, sooner or later. She had continued to be a counterpoint within, enjoying a legitimacy to approach and use party structures for her own outcomes. And to organise against the party, to meet foreigners, to divide loyalties.

And to allow for deniability, she was using Rugare Gumbo and Didymus Mutasa, both of them expelled, to push forward her campaign. Occasionally she would emerge from the parapet, from twilight, take a shot at the President and party, thereby reminding the world she still existed, existed as the only one with the legitimacy and courage to tackle mukuru.

Today she is out and no one in the Party can hobnob with her, without declaring counter loyalties, without inviting disciplinary action. And from where I seat, there is a readiness to take hard decisions, to settle the whole matter comprehensively, even if it means another mini-general election, which we already have anyway, thanks to MDC-T. So let no sitting MP think that there is fear to expel, a fear to go back to the people. And the days ahead will have many eyes. I hope the reader realises the illustration of my thesis: that the whole body-politic is adjusting, which is why there is an amazing parallelism of events in unrelated parties. There is stress on orderly succession. There is stress on a bi-partisan political structure, with no median politics ever surviving. You are either Zanu-PF or MDC-T, and in between is nothing, at least for now. In the case of Robert Mugabe, it is a matter of duty. Soon he will bow out, like all mortals.

He can’t leave a dispute in his party, a dispute still unresolved and what is worse, one with real potential for gunpowder. Historically, putsches in Zanu-PF have always been a bloody affair. Thank heavens this one happened in the life of the commander-in-chief of politics. And for me, the man has discharged a key assignment to do with succession.

Legal fun fare,

legalese galore

A few weeks ago last month, Didymus Mutasa and Temba Mliswa filed an application against by-elections set for Headlands and Hurungwe West, for both erstwhile constituencies they represented in Parliament. They did not want to lose the parliamentary hold, even after their expulsion in Zanu-PF.

That apart, it was also a hope they nursed, a hope of dragging Zanu-PF into a rule-driven, structured war where results have to support rules, away from the uncharted political field where victory spurns at rules, propriety and often fairness.

It was a search for an external arbiter to party disputes. An attempt to abuse due process in the hope of a political breakthrough. For the two, that was fatal.

Enter a disinforming media

The whole action was mounted in courts, to saturating coverage by the private press. Attitudinal reportage apart, all of us who rely on the media for information felt attended to, felt served somewhat, by a vigilant media.

We would be kept informed right up to the end, or so we thought. Then a few weeks later, on April 1, the Constitutional Court handed down judgment on the matter, a judgement which went against Mutasa and his nephew who has now grown cosy with the MDC, meaning by-elections will proceed, as proclaimed by the President.

When that happened, only The Herald ran the story in requisite proportions, with due prominence, with the rest of the private media leading with other stories, some of them purely fictional, all of them calculated to divert national attention away from the very matter the same media had striven so hard to put in the public eye.

Or calculated to overwrite the Mutasa/Mliswa defeat by generating, nay inventing, hostility or dis-esteem for Zanu-PF, itself the winner in the court case.

Daily News led with a fictitious claim by the vindictive Shepherd Mutamba — a once-upon-a-time Mtukudzi publicist — alleging that the relationship between the singer and the President had compromised his lyrics. The story came from a book launch by Mutamba, one done last Saturday!

That suggested a wilful editorial decision to retrieve an “old”, all to displace an unwanted, an unpalatable “new(s)”. NewsDay did not do any better, fictionally leading with the story of a headman in Headlands, one Sebastian Boora, said to have received a live bullet, apparently as reprisal for supporting a disqualified Zanu-PF MP aspirant, Dakarai Mapuranga.

Both stories presented the story of ruling and blackmail, one through seduction, another through brazen threats.

Clearly the idea was to overwrite the court judgment, to transfer focus back to the winner, but for negative reasons, and of course to cast aspersions on the impending by-election.

It helps to remember that the MDCs have decided on election boycotts, with an additional feature of introducing disruptive violence so as to discredit the whole electoral architecture. That means the editorial behavior of the papers in question has a political home.

Ill-gotten sense of impunity

Whichever way you look at this development, and whatever your politics are, key ethical issues come to the fore. Is news reportage woven around the political predilections of publishers, editors or journalists?

Or is it governed by occurrences which are newsworthy? Can an occurrence whose launch is newsworthy, lose that newsworthiness as it hurtles towards its climax, its resolution and conclusion?

Can a newspaper carry a story only up to a politically convenient point in the evolution of that story? Alternatively, can a newspaper take a decision to drop a story at the point of its resolution without suggesting political influence and partisanship, or at the very least editorial attitude?

The initial interest of the private press lay in the fact that Zanu-PF hegemony was being challenged, and in the hope that such a challenge would prevail.

The press was thus well motivated to report on the matter. And to even run ahead of the trial by drawing hair-raising scenarios predicated on an outcome unfavourable to Zanu-PF. Then when the response to the application was made, conspiratorial silence set in, which is why to this day few readers know the gist of the argument that persuaded the court.

By which time, the private press had a clear presentiment of an impending defeat of Mutasa and Mliswa. Does our Constitution guarantee freedom to media which act against journalism and its principles, whose news value is political position and expectation, not the natural cycle of a story and the need to keep the citizenry informed?

Has partisan politics become a news value, an organising principle for coverage and reportage? We need to raise these key questions.

Thankfully, IMPI has reported back, and far-reaching decisions will have to be taken to carry forward its recommendations. And the report came from the same journalists who abuse readers in its blatant way, fortified by a constitutionally ill-gotten sense of impunity. Bones have to rattle.


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