Abstract: This article explores the events leading to the closure of the Zimbabwe Mirror Newspapers Group (ZMNG) in 2007. It narrates how the state in Zimbabwe, through its intelligence arm, the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), covertly took over the privately owned newspaper stable, publishers of the Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror, leading to the organization’s demise. The article is informed by critical political economy theory, particularly the Propaganda Model and the concept of Social Control in the newsroom, linking Mirrorgate to the narrative of media control by the state in Zimbabwe. Interviews were conducted with key personnel – former Mirror staff members – to collect data. Archival newspaper reports were also analysed to trace the development of Mirrorgate and its consequences on the Mirror’s performance as a media entity. The article also benefits from experiential data accumulated through observation by the author as a former Mirror employee. The article shows that the Mirror takeover by the state had debilitating consequences on the organization’s performance, and can be attributed as the major reason behind the newspaper stable’s eventual collapse. The article also speculates on the possible reasons why the state could have taken over the newspaper company, particularly to manipulate public opinion during a time of political strife.
By Oswelled Ureke: Midlands State University
Between 2006 and 2007, Zimbabwe was rocked by what was dubbed the ‘Mirrorgate’ or ‘Mediagate’ scandal in which the state’s security agency, the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), allegedly infiltrated and took over operations of the privately owned newspaper stable, Zimbabwe Mirror Newspapers Group (ZMNG).1 This article qualitatively explores the nature of the Mirror takeover and attempts to explain why this appropriation may have had an influence on the newspaper’s performance and survival. Broadly, the study is premised on political economy theory, specifically the propaganda model (Herman and Chomsky 1988) and the concept of social control in the newsroom (Breed 1955). The findings of this study, while complementing existing works (Rusike 1990; Zaffiro 2002; Mukasa 2003), may contribute new knowledge on the historiography of the Zimbabwean state’s control and manipulation of the media for hegemonic purposes. The article develops from the central question of how the Mirror2 takeover relates to the closure of the publishing group. Beyond this seemingly straightforward endeavour, the article further attempts to establish, in the Mirrorgate context, the relationship between media ownership and control on one hand, and media performance and manipulation of public opinion on the other.
The paper derives data from interviews with purposively sampled staff members from the Mirror newspapers. In-depth conversations were conducted with key staff members and content analysis done on selected newspaper reports to yield qualitative data on ‘Mirrorgate’. Due to the sensitivity of the issue, respondents in this study are anonymous. The ‘thick description’ (Geertz 1973) characterizing the findings of the study is a result of personal observations made by the author as a former Mirror employee. The article is, therefore, partly motivated by the author’s experiences and can thus be regarded as autoethnography (Ellis et al. 2011; Holman Jones 2003). Structurally, the article begins by giving a background on Mirrorgate, narrating a history of the Mirror and its significance in the Zimbabwean media context. The study then discusses key theoretical assumptions guiding the enquiry. Results are then presented in thematic format, ending with a summary of the study.
Mirrorgate: A background
‘Mirrorgate’ was seen as part of a wider systematic attempt by the state to muscle into the private media and tone down criticism from the same media (Munyuki and MISA Zimbabwe 2005; see also Nyakunu 2005). There is enough evidence to suggest that media and intelligence agencies in various countries have clandestine relationships, although academic studies on the subject are sparse. Comparisons can be drawn between Mirrorgate and South Africa’s ‘Muldergate’ scandal involving the apartheid regime in the 1970s (Howell 1983; Paterson and Malila 2013) as well as ‘Operation Mockingbird’ in the United States around the 1950s. In the United Kingdom, MI5 and MI6’s infiltration of the media is also documented (Keeble 2010). Under ‘Mockingbird’, the US government planted security agents in the media and commissioned articles in numerous publications to influence foreign policy. The security agencies, led by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), comprised an ‘invisible government’ directing domestic and foreign policy through the media (Louise n.d.; Wise and Ross 1964). Herman and
Chomsky’s (1988) examples of Indonesia, Laos and Cambodia detail the covert involvement of the CIA as it tried to depose ‘unwanted’ regimes and campaign for candidates preferred by the United States. The operation was also instrumental in the overthrow of Guatemala President Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán, while in Chile the CIA funded the largest daily newspaper, El Mercurio, leading to the overthrow of President Salvador Allende in 1973 (Karikari, 1990; see also Anon. 2007: 153).
In the ‘Muldergate scandal’ (1973), the South African Prime Minister John Vorster, Information Minister Connie Mulder (after whom the operation is named), General Hendricks van der Bergh, head of the Bureau of State Security (BOSS), and Eschel Rhoodie, the secretary in the Department of Information, connived to use government resources to wage a propaganda war for the apartheid government (Howell 1983; Paterson and Malila 2013). In the United Kingdom, the media and the ‘secret state’ are said to share the same goals and objectives, with the MI5 and MI6 at times planting propaganda stories in various publications (Keeble 2010). All these events point to a systematic and widespread strategy of media control by states, which validates Herman and Chomsky’s (1988: xi) assertion that ‘… the media serve, and propagandize on behalf of, the powerful societal interests that control and finance them’.
‘Mirrorgate’ was described as ‘the biggest scandal to hit the country’s media industry’.3 For his extensive coverage of the issue, the Zimbabwe Independent’s Dumisani Muleya won the 2006 CNN Reporter of the Year Award. His reports brought to light how the companies Unique World and Zistanbal, allegedly run by the CIO, invested in the ZMNG and ousted the group’s founding shareholder Ibbo Mandaza (Munyuki and MISA Zimbabwe 2005). Although Mandaza filed a court challenge to reclaim the newspaper, the CIO held on and introduced a raft of administrative and editorial changes, which could have contributed to the closure of the paper in March 2007. The takeover alone, however, may not adequately explain the paper’s closure. There could be other reasons, precipitated by or correlated to the takeover, that led to the newspaper stable’s collapse.
This research article explores and attempts to explain the reasons behind the ZMNG takeover by the state through the CIO. It seeks to also explain the correlation between the state takeover and the closure of the newspaper publishing group. Its findings contribute a new dimension to the existent literature on the control and ownership of the Zimbabwean media and the state’s well-documented role in the muzzling of press freedom (Windrich 1981; Rusike 1990; Saunders 1999; Chuma 2005). The Mirror takeover can be situated in contradictory impulses between democratization and authoritarianism (Rønning and Kupe 2000), wherein the government of Zimbabwe wanted to project itself as democratic enough to allow a thriving private press, but covertly attempted to control the operations of the same private media. Most of the literature on government control of the media in Zimbabwe deals with the obvious implications of the state’s muzzling of the media through legislative and paralegal means. Munyuki and Misa Zimbabwe (2005) and Nyakunu (2005) have cursorily written about the CIO’s takeover of the Mirror, but have not been critical enough to establish how and why this happened. They do not go beyond describing the shareholding structure of the ZMNG and the state’s involvement. Furthermore, their articles are dated, having been authored before the closure of the newspaper publishing group.
The political economy of ‘Mirrorgate’
The Mirror stable was founded by Ibbo Mandaza’s Southern Africa Printing and Publishing House (SAPPHO) as an in-house arm of the Southern African Political and Economic Series (SAPES) Trust in 1994. SAPPHO launched the Zimbabwe Mirror as a separate weekly in 1997 (Chuma 2005), which subsequently diversified into two operations, The Daily Mirror, a tabloid, and The Sunday Mirror, a broadsheet in 2002. In 2005, the organization began publishing a weekend edition, The Daily Mirror on Saturday. SAPPHO also rebranded into SAPHO, dropping the printing aspect from its title. The Mirror newspapers ran under the motto ‘Vision for the Nation’ (SAPPHO 2002).
The Zimbabwe Mirror was launched as a unique publication, claiming to be non-partisan, but also employing a nationalist and analytical approach in its reporting (Chuma 2005, 2009). In pursuance of its ‘Pan African’ vision, the newspaper group aimed to circulate newspapers in Zimbabwe that published national issues ‘likely to promote the political, social and economic development of Zimbabwe’ (SAPPHO 2002: 1). Such perception of nationalism, according to the policy, was not confined to the support of one political party or group of individuals, although Mandaza’s close ties with ZANU (PF) always made this problematic (Chuma 2009).
At its closure in 2007, The Daily Mirror was Zimbabwe’s only privately owned daily newspaper in circulation. Privately owned newspapers operated under an environment of fear and uncertainty following the closure of the Daily News, The Daily News on Sunday, The Tribune and The Weekly Times on accusations of violating sections of the Access to Information and Privacy Act (AIPPA). The Daily Mirror then was one of only three national dailies in the country, alongside The Herald and The Chronicle, both under the governmentcontrolled Zimbabwe Newspapers (Zimpapers) stable.
The Mirror was founded when the ZANU (PF)-led government was only beginning to react to the rise of trade union movements and civic agitation in the wake of the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (Moyo 2004; Chuma 2005; Bond and Saunders 2005). The period after 2000 would see the state becoming more reactionary, following the emergence of a vibrant political opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and an increasingly critical private press, led by the Daily News (MMPZ 2002; Moyo 2004). Government’s reaction included modifying legislation affecting media, access to information and public security (Mukasa 2003), as well as harassment of critical journalists (see Chavhunduka 2000; Chuma 2005). Generally, the post-2000 period presented new economic, political and regulatory challenges for the media (Mano 2005). These challenges are better understood in the context of the Zimbabwean government’s long history of controlling the press (Windrich 1981; Rusike 1990; Saunders 1999; Ranger 2002; Mukasa 2003). This history dates back to the colonial era, when the Rhodesian Front government put the media at the centre of its strategies to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of the black majority (Frederikse 1982; Mazango 2005).
The nature and rationale of the Mirror takeover
The alleged infiltration and takeover, by state security agents, of the Mirror as well as the Financial Gazette (Munyuki and MISA Zimbabwe 2005; Nyakunu 2005) raises important questions about the state’s involvement in the running of media enterprises. It makes pertinent the question ‘How much control may the state exercise and what accepted methods and instruments of control should the state adopt?’ (Okoth-Owiro 1990: 17). ‘Mirrorgate’ can be analysed from a political economy perspective with the hypothesis being that the state took over the Mirror in order to control the scope of discourses emanating from it and therefore manage public opinion. Some political economists have negatively viewed media manipulation by the state in light of the declining vitality of publicly funded institutions (Golding and Murdock 1997; Lee 2001). Rusike (1990) further contends that a government newspaper that openly declares its allegiance is not as evil as one that pretends not to be associated with government, such as was the case with the Mirror.
Media control may be effected at both institutional and individual levels. Both levels are important in this analysis, to understand the political economy of the Mirror. At the institutional level, the propaganda model (Herman and Chomsky 1988) is applicable, while for the latter the theory of social control in the newsroom (Breed 1955, 1995) may be useful. This triangulated theoretical approach affords a balance in the analysis, attending to the criticism that political economy theory looks at the ‘bigger picture’ and therefore misses day-to-day practices in journalism (Schudson 1989: 268). A complementary sociological approach acknowledges a ‘hierarchy of influences’ that affect media routines (Reese and Ballinger 2001: 641). Editorial policy parameters constitute the operational premises for media institutions, which in turn exert commensurate incentives, pressures and constraints on journalists (Herman and Chomsky 1988: xi).
From a sociological point of view (Breed 1955, 1995; Schudson 1989; Reese and Ballinger 2001) journalists working for media enterprises do not only use their discretion in producing news more than they conform to organizational policies and several bureaucratic arrangements set to provide news. Schudson argues that ‘the story of journalism, on a day-to-day basis is the story of the interaction of reporters and officials’ (1989: 271). This is part of systematic social control in the newsroom (Breed 1955), which ensures conformity to media ownership structures. Breed argues that, although newspapers operate under certain policies, there are never formal orientations for journalists on what such policy is. Instead, journalists learn this policy by some sort of ‘osmosis’ where they ‘discover’ and internalize what is expected of them, as well as the commensurate rewards and punishment (Breed 1955: 328). Although Breed’s functional analysis is dated, it is very useful in studying how journalists conform to policy, in spite of their technical and ethical discretions, which may be at variance with organizational philosophy.
This framework can be used to analyse how the Mirror takeover qualitatively affected the news gathering and production process as journalists tried to conform to what Winston Mano (2005: 57) has termed ‘proprietor driven controls’. This scenario is not new in Zimbabwe, where the government is known to use senior editors to control newsroom staff and editorial content in the public media for the protection of state hegemony (Rusike 1990; Mazango 2005). Mazango (2005: 34) sees such strategies as ‘media games’ designed to manage political space. Conformitymindedness is part of ‘institutional statuses’ or ‘structural roles’ in which news people see their job as producing a certain quantity of news in a day (Breed 1995: 279; see also Davis 2007). The theory of social control in the newsroom argues that, as a result of an ‘instrumental orientation’, news reporters do not pursue objectivity but rather obsess about sticking to policy and getting more news. Journalists, according to this concept, are not critical of the political and economic forces responsible for their employment (Breed 1955, 1995; Ogongo-Ongong’a and White 2008). This may lead to unreflective or erratic reportage precipitated by an over-reliance on ‘diary’ events and press-release stories (Davis 2007: 38).
At its peak, the Mirror broke some credible investigative stories, which at different times led to the persecution of its staffers, including Mandaza and reporters Grace Kwinje and Tawanda Majoni (MISA 2004). Pursuant to Breed’s (1955, 1995) theory of social control, in the newspaper group’s latter days, journalists may have become less willing to venture beyond the limits established by their editorial charter and the instructions of their ‘bosses’. The consequence of such actions would be the sacrifice of qualitative aspects of news, although the quantity of stories written by reporters may not have been affected.
At a macro-level, Mirrorgate can also be viewed in light of Herman and Chomsky’s (1988: xi) propaganda model in which ‘the powerful are able to fix the premises of discourse to decide what the general populace is allowed to see, hear and think about and to “manage” public opinion by regular propaganda campaigns’. The model can be regarded as a critical sociological approach that predicts media behaviour in relation to institutional and market imperatives (Klaehn 2003, 2009; Klaehn and Mullen 2010). The propaganda model posits that the coverage of issues by the media is affected by the interests of power. Pursuant to this, institutional interests are catered for by encoding preferred meanings in news articles, with institutional sources being the primary definers of social reality (Klaehn 2009). Propaganda is thus seen as a ‘requirement’ for society’s elites to manage concentrated wealth and class conflicts.
Propaganda, in that regard, is related to public order, public opinion and the psychology of mass society (Corner 2007; Vreese and Boomgaarden 2006; Klaehn 2009) – a relationship whose analysis has, for long, been the endeavour of media studies since the days of the Frankfurt school in the early twentieth century. At the root of the propaganda model is how money and power filter news that is fit to print, and exclude dissenting discourses from the public domain. The elites, therefore, set ‘boundaries of the expressible’ (Klaehn 2003: 378). As a tool of political communication, propaganda entails a lot of things, including lying, withholding information, strategic selectivity, exaggeration, affective appeals to desire or fear and the use of rhetoric (Corner 2007: 674–75). In the context of this study, it is pertinent to analyse how these various propaganda strategies, if any, were employed by the state after taking over the Mirror. Both the propaganda model and the theory of social control in the newsroom provide intellectual lenses to examine how change in ownership of the ZMNG related to changes in the activities of journalists and, ultimately, in news content and the publishing group’s survival.
Following the propaganda model, a political party that controls the media enjoys the privilege to campaign well ahead of elections as it can use the media as an ideological apparatus to sway public opinion and therefore maintain its hegemony. In the post-2000 Zimbabwean context, ZANU (PF) faced stiff electoral competition from the MDC, which enjoyed massive support from the privately owned media. A critical private press was seen in ZANU (PF) circles as representing a regime change agenda, and to that end President Mugabe had described the private press as thriving on selling falsehoods (Mukasa 2003). The takeover of the Mirror and the Financial Gazette could therefore be seen as one grand scheme, including the closure of other privately owned media, to silence this section of the media and therefore reduce the MDC’s options of political communication and also shrink the sphere of public political debate.
The nature and rationale of the Mirror takeover
The Mirror takeover can be seen, according to the propaganda model (Herman and Chomsky 1988), as having been meant to influence the editorial content of newspapers under the stable, and as part of ZANU (PF’s) strategies of media control (see Ranger 2002; Zaffiro 2002; Kriger 2005), which included silencing the privately owned media. It can also be seen in the context of the broader political dispensation in which a fractured ZANU (PF) or one of its alleged factions saw value in influencing the reportage of a ‘private’ newspaper company. Interviews conducted by the researcher and archival newspaper articles provide a detailed explanation of how, and to some extent why, the CIO took over the ZMNG. It should be pointed out that there is no official record to show whether the people who took over the Mirror were actually employed by the CIO or were merely associates. It could not, therefore, be ascertained beyond doubt that the individuals were indeed members of the CIO due to the secretive nature of intelligence agencies. Pursuing that line of enquiry would certainly be an onerous task, and is beyond the scope of this article.
In an interview, Mandaza speculated that his ouster from the Mirror was premised on two things:
1. widespread suspicion that he had helped author a damning UN report about a government clean-up exercise code-named Murambatsvina, which was supposedly meant to get rid of urban squatters; and
2. that the Mirror’s ‘middle of the road’ editorial policy made it an ‘easy target’:
The height of this fight with CIO was Murambatsvina. The Mirror was very critical, and I wrote an editorial in which I criticised the state. Mugabe was told that Mandaza had written the [UN Habitat head Anna Kajimulo] Tibaijuka report. Why? Because Tibaijuka was my former student in Dar es Salaam – even though I didn’t meet her here. I tried to meet her but we never got to because she was busy. I have reason to believe that CIO created that story to create [author’s emphasis] a pretext for state action under Mugabe’s guidance.
(Ibbo Mandaza, 16 November 2009, interview)
The fact that Mandaza would see the story as a creation by the CIO means there were other reasons why this creation had to be made in the first place. This ‘creation’ is akin to what Herman and Chomsky (1988) define as ‘flak’, one of the five news filters in the propaganda model. The state’s ability to complain about Mandaza’s involvement in authoring the report became a basis on which to take ‘his’ newspaper and therefore control its range of discourses so that they did not mirror Mandaza’s now critical ideology. Mandaza’s connection to the Tibaijuka report would obviously concern President Mugabe, especially as civic society at large and the UN in particular strongly condemned the Murambatsvina clean-up exercise as a move targeted at pro-opposition urbanites (see Potts 2006; Bratton and Masunungure 2006). The Centre for Peace Initiatives in Africa (CPIA 2005: 9) says ‘the true motive behind the operation was illegal’ and further compares it to Gukurahundi, in which national military forces allegedly killed and displaced thousands of civilians in the southern provinces of Zimbabwe in a counter-insurgency operation (CCJPZ 1999).
According to Mandaza, the CIO orchestrated a clandestine investment that saw them emerging as the majority shareholder, owning a combined 51 per cent of the ZMNG through Unique Investments and Zistanbal. They then used the results of a forensic audit to fire him on allegations of theft. In our interview, Mandaza constantly referred to the ZMNG as ‘my own company’ showing that he had an emotional investment that blinded him to the fact that there were other financial investors in the enterprise. This was corroborated by a respondent, who was a former news editor for one of the Mirror titles. He said ‘Mandaza continued to run the paper like a private business, without considering the interests of the CIO’ (interview, 10 November 2009). Pursuant to this belief and to maintain a good corporate image of the Mirror newspapers, Mandaza consistently denied the CIO takeover during the early days.
The Mirror takeover implicates former Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) Governor Gideon Gono, who was a shareholder in Unique Investments (Nyakunu 2005). According to Mandaza, Gono agreed to fund the Mirror on condition that he would bring ‘other investors’ in. Mandaza did not know the identities of these ‘investors’ until much later and, upon realizing, refused to sign a shareholders’ agreement. He also reacted immediately by suspending his deputy Alexander Kanengoni, whom he suspected of being linked to the CIO. Mandaza further expelled all students on attachment at the organization as he was not sure who was a CIO officer and who was not. In our interview, Mandaza claimed that the CIO had a grand operation aimed at taking over or working in cahoots with reporters in the privately owned media. As a pointer, in 2009, Zimbabwe Independent senior reporter Augustine Mukaro was dismissed for allegedly snooping into pre-published stories and sending them to his CIO connections. This compares well with similar worldwide cases discussed above – namely, ‘Operation Mockingbird’ (Louise n.d.; Wise and Ross 1964), the Muldergate scandal (Howell 1983; Paterson and Malila 2013) and the United Kingdom’s ‘hacks and spooks’ (Keeble 2010). Above all, it confirms one of the propaganda model’s suspicions that media personnel can be ‘agents of propaganda’ (Herman and Chomsky 1988: xxix). It also shows an intricate relationship between the state’s role in the media and the media’s role in state affairs. The two combine to form a ‘secret state’ (Keeble 2010) with clandestine, para-political functions.
One can argue that the ZANU (PF) administration had a pressing and justifiable need to control the media against the backdrop of waning political fortunes. Ranger’s (2002) description of media use by ZANU (PF) in narrating partisan history in the run-up to the 2002 elections is an example of this control and use of the media. A different dimension of this control would imply that the state took over the Mirror in order to close it, as a respondent from the editorial department opined:
The CIO wanted to close the paper, so they came in just like a mole and destroyed the paper from inside. In the context of the state-driven closures of The Daily News, the Tribune and the Weekly Times, it might have been on the agenda to close the Mirror, but they did not have an excuse.
(Interview, 8 November 2009)
The state perhaps realized the difficulty of using as a propaganda mouthpiece a paper with a well-known ‘middle of the road’ and sometimes critical policy. Herman and Chomsky (1988: xii) acknowledge that media policy may allow some measure of dissent but that dissent is ‘kept within bounds’ so that it is ‘not large enough to interfere unduly with the domination of the official agenda’. From that perspective, the state’s flirtation with the Mirror could have been meant to sustain some semblance of a ‘free’ private press but also to ‘deal’ with the newspaper for good so that it would not be a nuisance to the official agenda, as it had at times been.
4. Mugabe expelled Moyo for standing as an independent candidate for Tsholotsho, when ZANU (PF) had ‘agreed’ that the seat be reserved for a female candidate, in terms of its gender equity policy.
On the issue of the Mirror’s editorial policy, Mandaza told The Zimbabwe Independent that the then state security minister Didymus Mutasa insisted that ‘they wanted the Mirror because it was nationalist and pan-Africanist’ (Muleya 2005e). In our interview, Mandaza insisted on this point of view, saying that soon after the CIO’s entry into the Mirror they showed their intentions to interfere with the newspapers’ editorial policy:
We had a lot of interference by CIO and indeed I would say that increasingly CIO was not so much directly involved at all, but they were doing so through proxies who were being attached there, and eventually they were even getting to the newsroom after hours. There was also a complaint that we’re covering MDC in the elections of 2005, and we replied that we were covering everybody as an independent newspaper.
(Ibbo Mandaza, interview, 16 November 2009)
A former Mirror editor interviewed on the same issue, however, said the Mirror newspapers were taken over ‘for actively participating in ZANU (PF) politics’. For instance, in 2004 The Sunday Mirror’s Kudzai Musengi wrote a story suggesting that Emmerson Mnangagwa was junior to Joyce Mujuru in the ZANU (PF) hierarchy for which he reportedly personally apologized to Mnangagwa later on. Both Mujuru and Mnangagwa were touted as possible Mugabe successors. The Mirror newspapers were also the most vocal about a clandestine meeting held in Tsholotsho (2004), during which some ZANU (PF) members were alleged to have covertly planned to influence the succession of President Robert Mugabe in Mnangagwa’s favour. As an indicator that Mandaza’s allegiances lay with Mujuru, soon after the Tsholotsho meeting, the Mirror newspapers started publishing stories targeting the then Information minister, and alleged chief architect of the meeting, Jonathan Moyo, contributing to his expulsion4 from ZANU (PF). Moyo unsuccessfully sued the Mirror for defamation caused by these stories. President Mugabe later spoke in a television interview lambasting Mandaza for trying to be a ‘King-maker’ and seeking to clandestinely jettison Mujuru into the presidency.
The Mirror’s involvement in ZANU (PF) politics could have coincided with a bigger plot, in which the paper ‘was an essential part of the state security agency’s strategy to influence political events and ZANU (PF’s) succession struggle’ (Muleya 2005f). According to the Zimbabwe Independent, sections of the CIO perceived that since Moyo, as information minister, firmly had the public media under his control there was no way a ZANU (PF) faction led by Mujuru could use the state media as an effective communication platform in the race to succeed Mugabe. In our interview, Mandaza alluded to this, saying Mugabe saw him as ‘aligned to one faction or another’ in ZANU (PF).
The above data confirm the propaganda model’s submission that elites in society are ‘well positioned to shape and constrain media policy’ (Herman and Chomsky 1988: xi). The state’s (or parts of it) desire to control the Mirror, and the perceived communication benefits of this strategy, shows an intersection in political economy and communicative power (Klaehn and Mullen 2010). Whoever in ZANU (PF) could acquire the political and financial control of the newspaper publishing group would have at their disposal a propaganda mouthpiece whose credibility lay behind the façade of neutrality pronounced in the Mirror’s editorial policy. It also shows that policies are mere rhetoric. Their meaning can be interpreted varyingly, ignored or by-passed accordingly in line with the official agenda (Breed 1955). According to the theory of social control, once the CIO took over the Mirror, staffers would be socialized into new ‘institutionalized statuses’ (Breed 1955) and ‘structural roles’ that befit the new slant (policy) of reportage rewarded (through praises, promotions, financial rewards and story prominence) by the new shareholders.
Policy as an instrument of control
As a result of power contestations on the ZMNG board, it split into two factions, an alleged CIO camp on one hand led by Board Chairman Jonathan Kadzura and Deputy Editor-in-Chief Alexander Kanengoni, and another led by Mandaza – all battling to control the media group. There were clashes in the daily administration of the group’s activities, while accountability and corporate governance were also affected. According to a former news editor for one of the Mirror titles, the CIO injected Z$2.7 billion into the ZMNG account to recapitalize the group, including buying a printing press, but Mandaza, instead, bought himself a V6 Toyota Prado. A former news editor with one of the Mirror titles said, to show the extent of confusion caused by Mandaza and Kanengoni’s power contestations, Chief Sub-Editor James Chikwanha one day had two papers ready for publication: one edited by Mandaza and another by Kanengoni. Chikwanha literally tossed a coin and published Kanengoni’s paper.
When Mandaza was suspended from the ZMNG on 3 October 2005, notices were stuck on newsroom walls and in every office urging staff members to ignore any instructions from him. A defiant Mandaza, who had won temporary reprieve from the High Court, which nullified his suspension, reported for work late in the afternoon. Later, one of the assistant editors revealed that Mandaza phoned him ‘suggesting the lead story for the day’. The assistant editor immediately locked his office and left the premises, for fear of being victimized.
In our interview, Mandaza described his suspension as a ‘brazen, flagrant, and underhand boardroom coup’. Following his ejection, new management was appointed with former The Herald Municipal Correspondent Tichaona Chifamba being installed as CEO, although he did not have prior managerial experience and qualifications. A respondent from the former Mirror finance department criticized Chifamba’s management skills, which saw him failing to properly profile the company’s priorities, including the need to equip the newsroom. Mandaza’s assessment of the new Mirror management was that they had ‘no clue what it is at all to run a newspaper group from an operational perspective’ (interview, 16 November 2009).
The above events can be explained using the propaganda model, as they are examples of elite control of the media. Herman and Chomsky (1988: xi) say intervention is not by ‘crude intervention but selection of right thinking personnel’. As shown above, Mirrorgate was, to an extent, by crude intervention, which manifested in the selection of personnel that could drive the state’s agenda. The Mirror became a para-political institution that mirrored the larger body politic, particularly the situation in ZANU (PF). According to a respondent from the editorial section, after Mandaza’s suspension, there were factional fissures in the Mirror management team. These fractures were evidenced by the appointment of a ‘top-heavy’ administration headed by Kanengoni as Editor-in-Chief and University of Zimbabwe lecturer Joseph Kurebwa as Group Editor. Kurebwa and Kanengoni basically had the same functions and at times would issue conflicting directives to editors. The two were said to report to different people in the top echelons of the CIO. A respondent from the editorial section said,
These clashes did not auger well for the paper. It became more and more directionless. Just like Mandaza and Kanengoni had clashed, so did Kanengoni and Kurebwa. No organisation can survive with such confusion.
(Interview, 8 November 2009)
According to a respondent from the advertising section, revelations of the CIO takeover scared away investors:
There was a time in August 2005 when advertisements picked up, though not sustainably. After the revelation of CIO entry, some advertisers stopped advertising with the Mirror, leading to the death of the paper, although it was not a desired end.
(Interview, 10 November 2014)
According to the propaganda model, the second filter – advertising – acts as a licensing authority for the media, without which they cannot survive (Herman and Chomsky 1988: 14). The scholars argue that organizations that survive on sales alone would be driven out of existence in an advertisement-driven system. This hypothesis is perfectly reflected in Mirrorgate. A respondent noted a contradiction that, while the ‘CIO’ did not tolerate anti-government stories, they encouraged staff members to attract advertisers and ensure the paper’s self-sustenance, which effectively put staff under immense pressure.
Soon after the ouster of Mandaza there were noticeable changes in operations and the content of the Mirror newspapers. The Mirror flagship became a mini-Herald wherein one could find virtually similar stories on a page-bypage basis. The only difference between the Mirror and Herald reporting style was that the former did not address ZANU (PF) officials as ‘Comrade’ as is the norm in Zimpapers publications. In this way, reporters were socialized into some covert editorial policy that they could not question. This can be explained using the theory of social control in the newsroom (Breed 1955, 1995), which states that top leaders secure and maintain policy at lower levels. The chief cause of this state of affairs was that Mirror and Zimpapers reporters depended on the same official sources, who are regarded as important factors in filtering news, according to the propaganda model (Herman and Chomsky 1988).
The Mirror and The Herald were suddenly sharing a common privilege of being the only newspapers with access to State House events, being invited to all ministerial press conferences ahead of other newspaper stables. According to a former Mirror reporter, on a daily basis, there would be a ‘diary’ from the Ministry of Information and Publicity that had to be stringently obeyed. There were also suggestions of stories to be or not to be covered, with directives coming from various sections of the executive arm of government. The theoretical explanation for this is that elites are regarded as the ‘primary definers’ of news, and feature prominently as sources, therefore narrowing the scope of what is regarded as being in the public interest (Schudson 1989; Davis 2007; Klaehn 2009). The relationship between official sources is akin to division of labour: the sources provide news and journalists report the news (Herman and Chomsky 1988).
A former editor said prior to the CIO takeover the Mirror newspapers ‘had some semblance of independence in terms of editorial policy’ (personal communication). He cited an instance in which Mandaza and reporter Grace Kwinjeh were arrested in 1998 for a story that alleged that a Zimbabwean soldier who had died in the DRC had been buried without a head. The respondent also cited the arrest of reporter Tawanda Majoni for a story about police commissioner Augustine Chihuri’s failing health. Such cases could have made it apparent that Mandaza’s ZANU (PF) identity was no guarantee that his papers would always toe the party line.
According to a respondent who attended senior editorial meetings, the shift in editorial policy became apparent with the departure of Mandaza. Kanengoni became ‘the face of the CIO’ and would tell managers in the editorial meetings that ‘the shareholder is not happy’ or say ‘Nyati havasi kufara’/‘Nyati is not happy’. Nyati was a totemic reference to State Security minister Didymus Mutasa. This was the closest Kanengoni ever went to disclosing that the ZMNG was under CIO control, but it was adequate to inform the thrust of the organization. Most stories that criticized government or quasi-government institutions or officials were discouraged. In one of the meetings Kanengoni is said to have castigated a story in The Sunday Mirror that condemned ZIMSEC for not releasing examination results on time. Reporters were encouraged, instead, to concentrate on human interest, tabloid-type stories. Depending on the state of cash flow in the organization, MDC advertisements were also not encouraged in the newspaper. Any political story that criticized the MDC, however, was welcome and would be prominently placed. The knowledge that editors had about the shareholding structure and the ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ in writing stories resulted in massive gate-keeping and self-censorship both at reporting and editorial level. As one respondent from editorial said,
It was something I knew that the editorial policy was such that it shouldn’t be critical of the government and ZANU (PF). Senior editorial staff could at times take advantage of this confusion and conveniently bar the publication of bad stories about their friends, claiming that directives had come from high offices to stop the concerned stories.
(Interview, 10 November 2009)
This is an example of withholding information and strategic selectivity listed by Corner (2007) as some of the strategies of propaganda. From a social control perspective it also tallies with the observation that journalists are not critical of the political and economic forces responsible for their employment (Breed 1955, 1995; Ogongo-Ongong’a and White 2008).
Control, power contestations and editorial fare
The Mirror fits into Rusike’s description of newspapers ‘which would have their readers (and the rest of the world) believe that they are independent of the government. Such newspapers are often digging their own graves as far as their credibility with the readers is concerned’ (1990: 69). According to the Zimbabwe All Media and Products Survey (ZAMPS), by April 2002, with less than a year in operation, The Daily Mirror claimed 8 per cent (over 150,000 readers) of the country’s leadership, while The Sunday Mirror claimed 5 per cent (over 100,000 readers). At its peak around 2005, The Daily Mirror had a print run of 15,000 copies, most of which were sold. When the CIO-takeover story was unearthed, print run went down to 8000 papers with massive returns. In late 2006, the print run had plummeted to 5000, and just before it closed it printed only 2000 copies, on days it managed to go on the streets. Sometimes, a paper that was meant for a day would only be published the next day. On certain days, the group only printed enough copies for subscribers. The Mirror owed printers millions of dollars and changed printers regularly.
Newspaper vendors said the Mirror owed its poor performance to a poor editorial policy that resembled that of The Herald. Readers would opt for The Herald because, as a broadsheet, it had more content to offer when compared to the Mirror. With time, the ZMNG was overdue in rent payments. The group had to relinquish the Charter House fourth floor and cramped its operations into the third and ground floors. By the time the newspaper group closed, in March 2007, workers were owed several months’ salaries while managers were owed even more. Consequently, managers clung to their cars or ‘grabbed’ computers as compensation, when the paper finally shut down. ‘Go-slows’ and ‘sit-ins’ became the order of the day, as workers became restless, with some privately calling for Mandaza’s reinstatement. At a time Zimbabwe’s economy was plummeting, securing a salary increment for workers would at times take more than four months. Workers grew more restless and daring, and demanded to ‘see The Shareholder’. They also voiced concern about the lack of a clear editorial policy. Acts of insubordination increased as evidenced by two occasions when disgruntled workers accessed and deleted all articles in the pool of stories pending publication as well as the emergence of anti-Mirror stories on newzimbabwe.com authored by one Lebo Nkathazo, who was suspected to be a Mirror staffer writing under a pseudonym. The management began a witch-hunt to rid the organization of ‘unruly elements’ while workers started leaving the organization in droves.
This period was characterized by worsening operational difficulties, including transport and communication such as Internet and telephones, which reporters depended on. Sometimes, the organization would go for over a month without notebooks or pens. To go for an assignment, a reporter had to sign a requisition form that sometimes needed as many as three or four signatures before payment was approved. Sometimes the petty cash was not there and reporters would be asked to use their own resources and claim the money when it became available. A respondent from the finance department revealed that, usually, the accounts staff would wait for vendors to bring in whatever petty cash they had to give reporters for assignments. When they undertook assignments, reporters used public transport, which was not conducive for the risky profession of journalism.
The increasing rate of resignations and shortage of resources forced the Mirror management to recall reporters who had been stationed at various bureaux countrywide. The relocation of these reporters further constrained already meagre resources to the extent that reporters did not have adequate chairs on which to sit. The rate of resignations and dismissals showed that the ZMNG was heading towards an inevitable collapse. The shareholders did not issue any statement regarding the latest of events and failed to explain delays in salary payments and non-publication of newspaper copies. Eventually, the ZMNG closed on 8 March 2007.
The above narrative can be explained from a liberal-pluralist political economy approach, which critiques the role of authoritarian states in the media (Lee 2001; Golding and Murdoch 1997; Curran and Gurevitch 1997). State interference in media organizations affects the vitality of these institutions. It hinders the play of market forces and may give the media institutions a false sense of stability.
As shown in the article, state interference in the Zimbabwean media is beyond doubt. Such interference varies from direct control of supposedly public media enterprises (Rusike 1990) to covert infiltration such as in ‘Mirrorgate’. It has been established throughout this study that the state interfered in the operations of the media to influence public opinion and maintain its hegemony. This has been shown in the way the CIO, after expelling Mandaza, influenced the Mirror’s editorial content to liken it to that of the state-controlled The Herald. This tallies with political economy theory, in as far as it accounts for power and media relations and the resultant contestations.
The CIO takeover does not, in isolation, explain the closure of the ZMNG. It certainly does not explain how state interference leads to the demise of the media. If state interference equals media demise, then The Financial Gazette, Zimpapers and other institutions controlled by the state, through whatever arm, should have collapsed, yet they are among the thriving media today. It is therefore not the mere takeover that led to the Mirror’s closure but the attendant malpractices predicated by that takeover that took a toll on the group’s business operations. The CIO clearly failed to manage the editorial policy, which could be equated to the corporate governance charter of newspapers. They failed to stick to the policy that had sustained the Mirror thus far because of conflicting and bureaucratic political interests. In the final assessment, the closure of the ZMNG cannot be attributed to a single factor, but to a combination of factors, which, however, can be traced back to the state’s interference via the CIO. If the state were to similarly mismanage other media enterprises under its control, those institutions would not survive. The question of why the CIO interfered in the ZMNG is largely reflected in the needs described earlier where states are constantly trying to maintain their hegemony, using the media as an Ideological State Apparatus. Herman and Chomsky (1988) also show how the state needs the media in order for it to ‘manufacture consent’ through various measures of propaganda.
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Oswelled Ureke is a lecturer in the Department of Media and Society Studies at Midlands State University, Zimbabwe. He has previously worked in journalism and video production. His research interests are in film and video, journalism and new media.
Contact: Department of Media & Society Studies, Midlands State University, P. Bag 9055, Gweru, Zimbabwe.
E-mail: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
Oswelled Ureke has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work in the format that was submitted to Intellect Ltd.
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