Media using double-standard in covering Zimbabwe election

By Stephen Gowans

Picture this. A third party, drawing on funding and support from Iraq, Iran, North Korea, and violent factions within the domestic anti-capitalist movement, demand that President George W. Bush step down, or face violent removal.

Bush refuses, and has the leader of the party charged with treason. The foreign press reacts, accusing Bush of intimidating the political opposition.

Though threatening a violent uprising to force the administration to step down, the third party cloaks itself in democratic garb, calling itself the Movement for Democratic Change. It's the government that's undemocratic, they say.

"Axis of evil" countries demand to be allowed to send election monitors to observe the next presidential election, issuing dire warnings that Bush plans to steal the vote. They're on record as favouring the third-party candidate. If our candidate doesn't win, it will prove the election was fraudulent, they say.

The president refuses to allow election monitors into the country. Iraqi, Iranian and North Korean correspondents, filing stories from Washington, concentrate on Bush's crackdown on the third-party opposition and  his contempt for foreign election monitors. They call Bush a strongman and dictator. Bush orders the journalists out of the country.

Right wing forces abroad denounce Bush. While they agree with large parts of his program, they don't want to be stuck with the stigma of being seen to have supported someone called an antidemocratic strongman, and so quickly become the most ardent opponents of Bush's administration. With all parts of the political spectrum abroad denouncing Bush, the president becomes an international pariah. While supported at home, elsewhere his ouster is devoutly wished for.

Meanwhile, the leader of the third party travels to Iran, to meet with a political consultancy firm. The firm secretly videotapes the meeting. The videotape shows the leader plotting Bush's assassination.

When the tape is released to the public, the opposition leader admits he was at the meeting and that the president's assassination was discussed, but says he was set up. He is charged with treason, though not jailed, setting off a furore of protest in the foreign press. Iraqi, Iranian and North Korean officials say the tape proves nothing, and dismiss it out of hand. The opposition leader's being charged with treason proves Bush is trying to steal the election, foreign governments say.

The foreign press devotes little coverage to the videotape or its implications.

Unbelievable?

Consider this. Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai demanded that President Robert Mugabe's elected ZANU-PF government step down, or face violent removal. Tsvangirai's party calls itself the Movement for Democractic Change.

Tsvangirai's "movement," which has no plan for land reform -- the concentration of the country's best farm land in the hands of the white minority is a festering sore in Zimbabwe -- and is four-square behind the neo-liberal economic policies favoured by the West, is backed by Britain, the former colonial master, and by Sweden and Norway.

London would like to see Mugabe dumped, and it's making sure all the bases are covered. When Mugabe passed legislation enabling the government to seize nearly 1,500 farms owned by white Zimbabweans, without compensation, Whitehall kicked its oust Mugabe campaign into high gear.  Four options would be considered:

1) a military coup;

2) buying the opposition;

3) insurrection; and

4) subverting Mugabe's ZANU-PF party.

Tsvangirai's threat to oust Mugabe by force showed that one option, insurrection, was still in play. And Tsvangirai's connections to London, showed that Whitehall had successfully bought the opposition. But a new option has since been added -- political assassination.

An Australian TV network obtained a secretly filmed videotape of Tsvangirai discussing the elimination of Mugabe. The tape was made by a Canadian political consulting company, Dickens and Madson, whose services Tsvangirai had retained. Tsvangirai, the consultants said, had travelled to Montreal to make arrangements for Mugabe's assassination.

Tsvangirai admitted to having been at the meeting, even that Mugabe's elimination was discussed, but said the tape was a set up.

The existence of the tape, though the centrepiece of a newsmagazine story on Australian TV, was little remarked on by the media. It was only after Tsvangirai was charged with treason in connection with the assassination plot that the media gave the story more prominence, and then to charge that Mugabe was up to his old tricks of intimidating the opposition. But with Tsvangirai's threatening insurrection, and possibly plotting assassination, whatever intimidation was going on was coming squarely from Tsvangirai and his London-backed self-styled "democrats."

The tape, and its significance, was immediately dismissed, its graininess said to call its authenticity into question. This contrasts sharply with the media's uncritical treatment of the grainy videotape purporting to show Osama bin Laden implicating himself in the Sept. 11 attacks. That tape was accepted as definitive proof of bin Laden's guilt, and sceptics, who worried about the inferior quality of the tape, were summarily dismissed as crackpots. By contrast, anyone who accepts the Tsvangirai tape as genuine is summarily dismissed as gullible. And yet the quality of the bin Laden tape is inferior to the Tsvangirai tape.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw dismissed the Tsvangirai tape as "another attempt by the Mugabe regime to obstruct the conduct of the election and the ability of the people of Zimbabwe to choose freely and fairly who should lead them."

It could have been said, but wasn't, that the bin Laden tape was "another attempt by the Bush regime to justify the bombing of Afghanistan," but that would have hardly supported Washington's PR goals, a matter the media, as unofficial PR agency for the government, appears to be extremely sensitive to. Dismissing the Tsvangirai tape on the same grounds the bin Laden tape could have been called into question on, however, serves Washington's propaganda aims, and so, appears in print.

As for Jack Straw's claim that Mugabe's charging Tsvangirai with treason is another attempt to obstruct the election, the media lets the obvious hypocrisy pass unremarked upon. London's backing of the opposition is not only self-serving, since Mugabe's plan for land reform is a major inconvenience for London, it's also a reprehensible intrusion into the election. What could be more an attempt to obstruct a free and fair election, than to buy the opposition, and back a leader who threatens insurrection and may have plotted the elected president's assassination?

But then it's clear that who's called a democrat, and who's called a dictator, and whether evidence of equal merit is celebrated as definitive or dismissed as a stretch, has nothing whatever to do with words or deeds, and everything to do with what suits the political aims of great powers. Dumb, blind and uncritically accepting journalists are the perfect conduit for this sort of  hypocritical bilge. They've acquitted themselves well...again.