The limits of peace journalism in restricted societies: reporting the Gukurahundi genocide in Zimbabwe

journalism in restricted societies

Reporting the Gukurahundi genocide in Zimbabwe

Phillip Santos


That social conflict is inherent in all societies is by now axiomatic. This is largely because most societies are characterized by a diversity of social groups and competing interests. It is on this basis that some have argued social conflict to be a healthy component of all democratic and democratizing societies (Mouffe 2009). However, poorly managed, social conflict can rapidly deteriorate inter-group relations with devastating consequences (Hamelink 2008). The challenge in any modern society today, thus, is to keep social conflict in check so as to prevent it from escalating to the level of violence (Christians et al. 2009). Since news media mediate modern sociality, the way they talk about social issues can potentially affect inter-group relations for better or worse. This concern is even more fundamental in instances where conditions are fertile for the escalation of social conflict to the level of violence (Galtung 2006; Lee 2009). In certain instances, news media even become active players in the escalation of social conflict to the level of violence and also to the intensification of such violence in war situations (Hackett 2007; Lynch and McGoldrick 2005). Given the failure of nation-building projects in some parts of the world, particularly in Africa, the threat of uncontained social conflict in society has never seemed more real and urgent. As such, it is necessary to evaluate the role of news media in conflict situations. In this chapter, I argue that since discourses in the news media are shaped or conditioned by the type(s) of journalism assumed by such media, the role(s) they perform, and the political environment in which they operate, only an expanded scope of conventional journalism is normatively productive in conflict situations. This chapter’s argument emanates from an analysis of The Chronicle’s coverage of the Gukurahundi genocide in Zimbabwe between 1982 and 1986.

Socio-political context

After ending close to a century of colonial rule in 1980, the new Zimbabwean government found itself faced with the insuperable task of building a nation out of the multifarious social cleavages inherited from colonial social engineering and borne of the nationalist struggle itself (see Muzondidya and Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2007). The enemies of yesteryear were now to be mobilized into a united entity. This spirit was expressed in a post-independence policy of reconciliation, which was necessary in a country that had become dangerously polarized along racial, ethnic and political lines. Today, Zimbabwe arguably finds itself more divided than ever before, along the same points of fracture: race, ethnicity and political affiliation although the players have changed in some ways (see Mlambo 2013).

One of the significant contributors to the country’s contemporary character is the savage violence meted out on the civilian population of Matabeleland by the army’s 5th Brigade in the early to mid-1980s. As some have argued, the 1980s conflict in Matabeleland and the Midlands provinces of Zimbabwe seems to have magnified ethnic divisions in the country (Alexander et al. 2000; Muzondidya and Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2007). The period between 1981 and 1982 saw the unfolding of a series of events that escalated the tension between former revolutionary parties ZANU-PF/ZANLA and PF-ZAPU/ZIPRA. The then Prime Minister Robert Mugabe accused ZIPRA/PF-ZAPU of hiding weapons for the purpose of overthrowing and taking over government, which left ex-ZIPRA soldiers feeling insecure and deserting from the army (Meredith 2003, 63). From these deserters emerged a group of about 300 ex-ZIPRAs who became “a loose association of dissidents responsible for crimes including murder, assault and destruction of property”, itself a point of contention (Eppel 2005, 44). The government responded to what it called the “dissident threat” by deploying a North Korean trained military unit (5th Brigade) named “Gukurahundi”by the then Prime Minister Robert Mugabe (Meredith 2003, 65-67). Some scholars have argued that the exercise was aimed at annihilating political opposition, mainly PF-ZAPU, as well as Ndebele and Kalanga people (see Alexander et al. 2000, 191-192). Following the deployment of the 5th Brigade between early 1983 and late 1986 approximately 20,000 civilians were killed in Matabeleland (Phimister 2008). The Gukurahundi conflict in Matabeleland ended with the signing of the Unity Accord between ZANU-PF and PF-ZAPU in 1987 (Auret 2009, 95).

Many contemporary political developments point to simmering political and ethnic conflict, mainly between the Ndebele and Shona people (see Masunungure 2006, 8; Muzondidya and Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2007, 286). Factors such as the economic marginalization of the Midlands, Matabeleland South and Matabeleland North provinces, the selective narration of the country’s history, the alienating, degrading and humiliating experience of Gukurahundi violence by mostly isiNde- hele speaking people, and the subsequent refusal to acknowledge the massacres and allow the event’s memorialization by government, have contributed to feelings of exclusion from the current imagination of the Zimbabwean nation-state. Attempts by the Emmerson Mnangagwa government to address the Gukurahundi issue have been met with resistance in Matabeleland and are largely seen as farcical. Frank and open talk about the Gukurahundi is still policed in a significant way. There is deep-seated discontent among the victims of the 1980s massacres over the government’s handling of the issue, simmering conflict expressed along both ethnic and political lines, and secessionist tendencies which can potentially lead to deadly violence. The chapter, thus, analyses a state-controlled newspaper, The Chronicle, whose framing of Gukurahundi back then may have shaped, and still shapes its perception by Zimbabweans today. The Chronicle was one of the most important sources of news about the conflict because of its proximity to both the government and the site of conflict and violence.

Theoretical framework

The chapter draws on Hanitzsch’s (2007) conceptualization ofjournalism culture so as to understand how it shapes media roles and journalistic representations. It also uses Christians et al.’s (2009) formulation of normative theories of the media to locate how the media “ought” to report on issues and events. Lastly, the notion of peace journalism as conceived by Galtung (1998) is used to assess The Chronicle’s coverage of the Gukurahundi conflict. These theories and concepts bring to the fore and help us understand factors that significantly shape the way journalists report socio-political issues and events.

According to Hanitzsch, journalism culture is “an arena in which diverse professional ideologies struggle over the dominant interpretation of journalism’s social function and identity” (2007, 370). Hanitzsch uses the dimension of ethical ideologies to draw attention to “how journalists respond to ethical problems” (2007, 378). He also uses the element of epistemology to assess the extent to which journalism observes the objectivity credo and is guided by empiricist practices. Finally, Hanitzsch uses institutional roles to characterize the practice ofjournalism by analysing the extent to which the media are socially committed and motivated as opposed to being detached (interventionism), are operating closer to the centres of power (power distance), and the extent to which they subordinate their goals to the logic of the market (market orientation) (2007, 374). He sees journalistic practice that is interventionist as assuming an advocacy role as opposed to a detached, gatekeeper orientation taken by objective journalism (2007, 371 -372). Peace journalism, development journalism and civic or public journalism exemplify the former, while the professional informational form exemplifies the latter.

For a normative framework, the chapter draws on Christians et al.’s conception of journalism’s collaborative, monitorial and facilitative roles (2009). For them, media that operate closer to power centres are likely to perform a collaborative role (Christians et al. 2009). A very narrow distance between the media and powerful institutions such as the state characterizes the collaborative role. Nonetheless, for normative collaboration to be achieved, the relationship between the media and the state should be “built on mutual trust and a shared commitment to mutually agreeable means and ends” (Christians et al. 2009, 198). These scholars also note that, “roles apply in particular instances and at particular times” and that “on any given day, most news media play multiple roles”, which can also manifest in a single story (Christians et al. 2009, 217).

Journalism that operates at a distance from the centres of power (Hanitzsch 2007, 374) can be associated with Christians et al.’s (2009) formulation of the monitorial role. They define the monitorial role as “an organized scanning of the real world of people, conditions, and events” and also the media’s evaluation and interpretation of these, “guided by the criteria of relevance, significance, and reigning normative frameworks for the public arena” (Christians et al. 2009, 140). Journalistic practice within this role is expected to be objective, neutral, accountable to audiences, distant from the state’s power and independent of economic interests (Christians et al. 2009, 147-152). However, Christians et al. identify claims to confidentiality and economic interest in protecting certain information, the commercial imperative in media operations, media obsession with “dramatic narrative”, compelling characters and personalities as some of the barriers to the performance of the monitorial role (2009, 152-156).

Media placed midway between adversarial and loyal positions can perform the facilitative role. This chapter argues that by performing the facilitative role, the media stand a better chance of reporting conflict in normatively productive ways. In this role, the media take seriously citizen efforts to “clarify and resolve public problems” (Christians et al. 2009, 158). They are expected to “raise social conflict from the plane of violence to the plane of discussion” (Commission on Freedom of the Press 1947, 23). In performing the facilitative role, news media are expected to promote grassroots voices as opposed to elite voices (Christians et al. 2009, 161), and to engage participants by “creating shared experiences and fostering mutual understanding” (Glasser 1991 cited in Christians et al. 2009, 161). This role would fit with media that seek to promote public dialogue on pressing issues and events of the day.

In sum, the monitorial role encapsulates normative expectations associated with the hegemonic understanding of professional journalism, while the collaborative role enables an assessment of normative positions available to a government-owned newspaper like The Chronicle. The facilitative role proffers a potential normative reference for the practice of conflict reporting. These three roles provide the framework to assess the sorts of media representations promoted by The Chronicle in its reportage of Gukurahundi depending on which role it assumes at any given point.

War or peace journalism?

Galtung (1998) defines peace journalism as an approach to conflict reporting which “concentrates on stories that highlight peace initiatives; tone down ethnic and religious differences, prevent further conflict, focus on the structure of society; and promote conflict resolution, reconstruction, and reconciliation” (cited in Lee and Maslog 2005, 311-312). Peace journalism is understood in juxtaposition to ‘violence journalism’, which is argued to seek causes of conflict, and solutions to it on the battleground, and focuses on who gets the upper hand in the war (Hanitzsch 2004, 484). According to Galtung’s model, peace journalism focuses on conflict, truth, people and a solution in contrast to violence journalism’s focus on violence, propaganda, elite people’s voices and victory in the end. Peace journalism emanates from the observation that “modern wars are fought as much through the media as they are on the ground” (Lynch and McGoldrick 2005, ix). It also originates from a critique of conventional journalism, which is seen as violence oriented (Galtung 2006, 1; Lee 2009, 258). As some argue, conventional objective journalism “removes any sort of moral content from the story and leaves only an empty spectacle” (Bell 1997 cited in McLaughlin 2002, 155). Journalistic objectivity is a value of fairness, an ethic of restraining one’s biases, the idea that journalism cannot be the voice of any particular party or sect, and the presentation of opinion free facts (Lynch and McGoldrick 2005). In addition, the media’s commercial imperatives, reliance on authoritative sources, censorship, controls imposed by the military and a sense of nationalism and patriotism among journalists themselves, orient conflict reporting towards official frames (Cottle 2006, 83-84). Lee and Maslog also point out “news coverage of conflict, including the reporting about war is grounded in the notion of conflict as a news value” (2005, 311). The point of departure then, according to Lynch and McGoldrick (2005), is to view peace journalism as a form that looks at how journalists could be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. However, there have also been strong arguments in favour of retaining journalistic objectivity. For instance, Calcutt and Hammond argue that if today’s journalism is to function as a “forum for vigorous, open and critical debate, it is more commitment to objectivity that is required, not further deconstruction of the concept” (2011, 113; see also Cottle 2006, 104).

Methodological approaches

This study is approached from a qualitative discourse-analytical perspective. Nine front-page articles were purposefully sampled using trending themes over the period under study. The front page is significant because it reflects “the editorial instincts of newspaper ownership and staff, and also attempts to meet the needs and desires of readers and ultimately society” (Weldon 2008, 2). It also sets the tone of the rest of the paper (Weldon 2008, 6). A preliminary reading of more than a thousand front-page articles published between 198.3 and 1986 showed that the ‘dissidents’, the ‘5th Brigade’ and ‘unity’ were the dominant themes in The Chronicle. However, it was also observed that the issue of ‘dissidents’ and their activities received the most attention in 1983, the ‘5th Brigade’ in 1984 and ‘unity’ in 1986, which patterns guided final sampling. The final sample consists of nine front-page articles, which is a fair size for in-depth qualitative discourse-analytical purposes. Three articles were purposively picked for their relevance and detail. Articles under each theme were picked from the year in which the theme received the most attention. Thus, three articles on the ‘dissidents’ were picked from 198.3, three articles focusing on the 5th Brigade from 1984 and three articles on unity from 1986.

Long front-page articles were selected not only because the newspaper regarded the selected stories as very important, but also because they had greater detail, explanation and background. The significance oflong stories is based on the idea that through the provision of “context, background and analysis” they let readers understand why they should care about the news (Scanlan 2000, 21). Stories in the final sample, therefore, were chosen based on their length for their detail, relevance to the concerns of this research, and because these stories were published at a time when there was high focus on the respective themes under study.

Frame analysis

These articles were analysed using frame analysis with some recourse to Aristotle’s approach to rhetoric. News framing is one way through which news media construct reality (Fowler 1991). Framing can be defined as a process of selecting “some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communicating text in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation and/or treatment recommendation for the item described” (Entman 1993, 52). Journalistic frames, therefore, are “an invitation or an incentive to read a news story in a particular way” (Van Gorp 2007, 63). The notion of news framing is useful to the analysis of conflict reporting within the context of peace journalism as it enables investigations into whether or not certain journalistic discourses promote peace or war.


The sample stories show that The Chronicle journalists were generally heavily reliant on elite and mainly, government sources. All the nine articles used labels and definitions that privileged the government’s interpretation of the conflict. The very words that constitute the analytical thematic strands of this chapter were derived from labels constructed by the government and adopted by The Chronicle without much questioning. The labels force us to think about the conflict in terms of who the government considers to be ‘dissidents’, ‘security forces’, and what it considers ‘unity’. To a larger extent, the stories did not provide an oppositional or critical interpretation of these labels. By privileging the government’s narrative of the conflict, the newspaper also privileged the ruling ZANU-PF party against other political groups, especially at the expense of PF-ZAPU.

The reporters, and elite government sources drawn upon across the nine stories, used negative epithets to characterize the ‘Other’. Common among these was their reference to ‘bandits’, ‘those bent on terrorizing innocent and unarmed civilians’, ‘armed banditry’, ‘dissidents', those who commit acts of ‘sabotage’, ‘espionage’,destabilization’ and ‘banditry’. However, the 5th Brigade was described in terms that associated it with the role of a public protector. For instance, it was never referred to as the 5th Brigade but ‘securityforces’ or ‘ the National Army’. This construction associated the unit with a state institution (Army) whose actions are normally seen as legitimately linked to the security of citizens. Using the label 5th Brigade would have carried undertones of a renegade militia operating outside state structures.

Stories that focused on ‘dissidents’ and the ‘5th Brigade’ were also constructed in very subjective terms, which is inconsistent with the ideology of professional journalism (Calcutt and Hammond 2011). The stories fall short of truthfulness as reporters either ignored the excesses of the 5th Brigade or took a deliberate position to either deny or excuse such excesses. An absence of accounts referring to the excesses of the 5th Brigade constitutes an inaccuracy of fact by omission. Furthermore, the reporters did not attempt to give an even-handed presentation of the different viewpoints at play in the interpretation of the conflict. Instead, the viewpoint of the government was given privileged status. Alternative viewpoints were either left out or marginalized. But stories that focused on ‘unity’ are constructed in a slightly different way from those about ‘dissidents’ and ‘the 5th Brigade’. The reporters did not use negative epithets directly against PF-ZAPU. They did not emphasise a link between PF-ZAPU and the dissidents, as was the case with stories foregrounding the other two themes (dissidents and the 5th brigade). Instead, PF-ZAPU’s role in the liberation struggle was foregrounded in ways that created fraternal association between the party and ZANU-PF. However, even though the reporters sought the view of the opposition on the issues at hand, the ‘primary definers’ remained those in government. Furthermore, the amount of space afforded oppositional voices, even in cases where they seemed consistent with the dominant frame, was very small in comparison to that afforded the story’s protagonist who was usually a government official.


Journalistic practice and media roles

Factors such as the media environment, political environment and journalistic representations shape the media’s representation of social issues and events. As some argue “the political and professional context for news stories” about peace or war “has a major impact on how they are written” (Wolfsfeld 2004, 25). This section reflects on the discourses and discursive practices employed by The Chronicle in its reportage of the Gukurahundi conflict to assess what these tell us about the normative role(s) (Christians et al. 2009) and type ofjournalism(s) (Hanitzsch 2007), assumed by the paper at the lime. This enables us to think about how the media’s performance of certain roles or journalistic practices, and the political environment in which they operate, promote or fail to promote certain discourses within contexts of brazen conflict.

Role(s) played by The Chronicle

In thinking about the role(s) that The Chronicle performed in its reportage of the Gukurahundi, a good starting point would be to position the paper somewhere within Hanitzsch’s (2007) conceptualization of journalism culture. As noted earlier, The Chronicle belongs to Zjmpapers, a company controlled by the Zimbabwean government, which places it closer to the centre of political power (Hanitzsch 2007). This casts the newspaper in a potentially loyal role, as opposed to offering an adversarial kind of journalism “that openly challenges the powers that be” (Hanitzsch 2007, 373). Furthermore, judging by the paper’s sourcing patterns, The Chronicle was arguably performing a collaborative role, which as Christians et al. argue, “represents an acknowledgment of the state’s interest - to which the media accede either passively or unwittingly, reluctantly or wholeheartedly” (2009, 197). Such collaboration ranges “from coercion to full acceptance of the particular arrangements and outcomes that collaboration implies” (Christians et al. 2009, 198). The government’s majority stake in The Chronicle might have induced some form of overt control, justified on the basis of history. The newspaper’s journalists could have acquiesced because such collaboration was inevitable, since it is argued that under such circumstances journalists “avoid coercion and accept their fate” (Held 1995, 161). It is also possible that journalists at The Chronicle willingly accepted collaboration or rather, actively collaborated with the political centre. It is difficult to use a single logic to explain The Chronicle’s collaboration with government. But it can be safely argued that The Chronicle’s proximity to the political power centre explains why it constructed its stories within frames defined by government officials.

Nonetheless, the construction of sample stories within the ‘unity’ thematic strand is consistent with the facilitative role. The reporters—taking a cue from elite politicians (especially government officials)—toned down their invective against both PF-ZAPU and the ‘dissidents’. They also actively sought commentary from the opposition, albeit at a less prominent level in comparison to that afforded government officials. These two tendencies are consistent with the facilitative role (Christians et al. 2009). Despite this, the stories fall short of the facilitative role as they do not reflect an even-handed representation of different viewpoints. Instead the viewpoints of government officials were privileged over others that were only accommodated to the extent that they reinforced dominant frames.

War journalism or peace journalism?

Peace journalism is argued to normatively question mainstream understandings and practices of journalism which some assert, promote violence (see Cottle 2006; Galtung 1998; Lee 2009). The sample stories show that The Chronicle’s coverage of the conflict was different across the thematic trends studied. Stories about ‘dissidents’ and the ‘5th Brigade’ show a profound ethnocentric orientation which provides “graphic descriptions of the other side’s brutality and our people’s suffering”, and at the same time “claims about our own acts of aggression and the other’s suffering are either ignored, underplayed, or discounted” (Wolfsfeld 2004, 23). Such constructions are accompanied by language that demonizes the form and actions of the ‘Other’ on the one hand, and on the other, justifies and legitimizes the actions of those in whose favour the media speak. Below is a discussion of The Chronicle’s representation of the Gukurahundi conflict using three salient indicators of peace journalism: “the avoidance of demonizing language, a non-partisan approach, and a multi-party orientation” (Lee 2009, 261). The discussion briefly assesses these dynamics across the three analytical themes of‘dissidents’, the 5th Brigade and unity.


By referring to other players in the conflict as ‘dissidents’ and ‘bandits’, The Chronicle pitted one party against the other, the “good” and the “bad”, and the “legitimate” and the “illegitimate” thereby providing the basis for violence against the ‘outgroup’. This suggests that stories within the ‘dissident’ thematic strand fail on the peace journalism indicator of avoiding demonizing language. The constructions also promote an escalation of conflict as they preclude the possibility of establishing dialogue with the so-called ‘dissidents’. Instead, they emphasize difference, confrontation and aggression.

5th Brigade

Stories in this thematic strand frame the conflict in terms of a fight out of which should emerge a winner and a loser, a technique typically associated with vi- olence/war journalism (Cottle 2006, 101). The reporters privilege the official frame, which casts the dissidents not only as an arch-enemy of government, but also by association, of the nation at large. What makes this kind of framing incompatible with peace journalism is the emphasis on differences rather than commonalities (Lee 2009, 262). The frame reinforces the distinctions between the forces at play in the conflict in ways that do not seek to locate a common ground from which peace initiatives can be developed.


The reports on unity are the closest to peace journalism. All the stories in this category recognize that all parties have a role to play in pursuit of peace. Such framing encourages parties involved in the conflict to reflect on their commonalities in order to develop strategies for peace. It makes everyone a stakeholder in the goal of achieving peace. Unlike stories about ‘dissidents’ and the ‘5th Brigade’ those about ‘unity’ do not link PF-ZAPU to the dissidents, but emphasize the party’s role in the struggle for independence, thereby raising its political standing and making it a credible partner with a stake in development processes. However, the fact that all the stories do not suggest the need to engage ‘dissidents’ either in negotiating a peaceful end to the conflict or in the unity talks makes them fall short of the multi-party indicator for peace journalism.


There are two major approaches to peace journalism: interventionism and multi-partyism. The interventionist approach is invoked and acceptable “in so far as that intervention allows the inclusion of a journalist’s values and participation in a community’s dialogue, consensus building, civic transformation, and a commitment to social justice” (Lee 2009, 269). On the other hand, a multi-party orientation to peace journalism is characterized by “an avoidance of good-bad labels, a non-partisan approach, a multi-party orientation, and an avoidance of demonizing language” (Lee 2009, 268). This approach has been criticized for its consistency with norms and values of mainstream journalism such as objectivity, which have been argued to privilege violence journalism (Lee 2009). It has been shown above that the sample stories within the ‘unity’ strand approximate peace journalism in the sense that the reporters, to use toned down language, focus on the common ground and promote unity as a desirable outcome. However, the same stories do not overtly criticize the violence perpetrated by all parties to the conflict. The only violence that is condemned was that by ‘dissidents’ and not security forces who were responsible for massive civilian deaths. The Chronicle’s assumption of some of the principles of peace journalism is consistent with the multi-party approach and objective journalism (Lee 2009).

This approach to peace journalism is consistent with the facilitative role in which media “facilitate the process of negotiation over the social, political, and cultural agenda” through deliberation which is open to a “wide range of evidence, respectful of different views, rational in weighing available data and willing to consider alternative possibilities” (Christians et al. 2009, 159). The facilitative role potentially raises “social conflict from the plane of violence to the plane of discussion” (Commission on Freedom of the Press 1947, 23). This role is far more important and effective before the escalation of social conflict to deadly violence.

Ultimately, it can be argued that The Chronicle’s representation of the ‘dissidents’ and the ‘5th Brigade’ was mainly shaped by the newspaper’s proximity and loyalty to the political centre of power (Hanitzsch 2007), its performance of the collaborative role (Christians et al. 2009), and the influence of politicians on editorial decisions (see Wolfsfeld 2004). The representations wrere constructed predominantly within the frame of war/violence journalism through “an identification with one or the home side of the war; military triumphalist language; an action orientation; and a superficial narrative w'ith little context, background, or historical perspective” (Lee 2009, 260). Sample stories within the thematic strands of‘dissidents’ and the ‘5th Brigade’ show that the government and military units deployed in Matabeleland are constructed as good, as the home side, and the ‘in-group’. Their actions are constructed as legitimate and are aligned w'ith the socio-political and economic aspirations of ordinary Zimbabweans. However, ‘dissidents’ are constructed as bad, and a threat to national security and the welfare of the citizenry at large. This bifurcated construction of the players in the Gukurahundi conflict, at the level of rhetoric, potentially encourages violence in the sense that the questionable and excessive actions of the security forces are rhetorically obscured in the name of national interest, and the subsequent emphasis on ‘dissident’ violence justified violent action against them with devastating consequences on the civilian population in the affected areas.

However, the newspaper’s representation of the ‘unity’ theme shows a partial shift from war/violence journalism, to peace journalism as the reporters retain the negative epithet ‘dissidents’ in their stories. Such labels w'ere the basis upon which the conflict had developed in the first place, and their continued usage left open the possibility of further violence. Worse still, the representation of discourses on unity does not meet the multi-party principle required by forms of peace journalism which are not interventionist, as it totally excludes the voice of the ‘dissidents’ themselves. Nonetheless, sample stories within the unity strand show The Chronicle’s shift from performing a blatant collaborative role to a facilitative role, a shift away from the power centre to a more accommodating form of journalism guided by the norm of journalistic objectivity, and a shift from war/violence journalism to peace journalism. This can be explained using Wolfsfeld’s postulation that “changes in the political environment lead to changes in media performance that lead to further changes in the political environment” (2004, 31). The shifts in The Chronicle’s tone were arguably guided by the political processes that were dominant at the time, which as shown by the flow of thematic trends over the period under study, shifted from justifying military presence in Matabeleland to promoting unity and peace. However, this argument does not strip the media of its own agency in constituting the political environment.

The political environment and peace journalism

The practice of peace journalism cannot be thought outside the “wider force field of politics and culture much less disembedded from the economic structures and logics that drive its performance” (Cottle 2006, 103). The shifts in The Chronicle’s discourses on the Gukurahundi conflict show the influence of political players, especially those in government, on the newspaper’s content. Political influence, the nature of media roles and journalistic forms assumed by The Chronicle can be understood in terms of Wolfsfeld’s hypothesis of the relationship between the media and politics that “most changes in the tone and content of news coverage reflect the shifts in the political process” (2004, 25-26). The combative tone manifest in sample stories within the ‘dissidents’ and ‘5th Brigade’ thematic strands reflects the political divisions among the politicians themselves (ZANU-PF and PF-ZAPU).

The shift towards a peace journalism frame in stories within the ‘unity’ thematic strand reflects the developing consensus on the need for peace, which at the time was promoted as achievable only through the attainment of unity between ZANU-PF and PF-ZAPU. This shift in discourse can be understood in two ways proposed by Wolfsfeld (2004). On the one hand, he argues that “the greater the level of elite consensus in support of a peace process, the more likely the news media will play a positive role in that process”, and on the other, he argues that the greater the extent of shared media by conflicting parties, “the more likely it is that the news media will play a constructive role in a peace process” (Wolfsfeld 2004, 26, 42). The discourse of unity gained momentum in 1985 and 1986. At the time, both ZANU-PF and PF-ZAPU leaders were promoting unity, which was also expected to lead to peace. So, in a way, there was political consensus on the desirability of unity, and by extension, peace. Furthermore, both political groups were dependent on the same media, although ZANU-PF enjoyed privileged coverage. The argument by political communication theorists that media content is significantly influenced by both powerful political and economic interests positions the media closer to both political and commercial power centres (Hanitzsch 2007). This implicitly suggests that the media follow political processes, rather than influence them, a point that requires further scrutiny in other studies.

Journalistic objectivity and peace journalism

Peace journalism is premised on a normative critique of mainstream or professional journalism (Cottle 2006, 100). Those who argue in favour of peace journalism, view journalistic objectivity and news values such as conflict, as bases for war/violence news frames (Lee 2009, 259). Journalistic objectivity has been argued to mute “reportage of the brutality of war, and the suffering of victims” because of its “respect for the prevailing social standards of decency and good taste” (Hackett 1989, 10-11). However, another school of thought views journalistic objectivity as a function of peace seeking efforts. They argue that, by abandoning the goal of objectivity, ‘corrective journalisms’ such as peace journalism “tend to get their evidence mixed up with their emotions [...] seeing what they want to see rather than reporting all that is there” (Calcutt and Hammond 2011, 116). As Cottle (2006) argues, abandoning journalistic objectivity does not deepen but undermines war and conflict reporting.

The Chronicle’s construction of stories within the ‘unity’ thematic strand can be argued to have been a fair commitment to the objectivity criteria. The significance of this point is that, comparatively speaking, the paper’s representation of the ‘unity’ thematic strand was the closest to peace journalism and was at the same time consistent with the ethos of journalistic objectivity. Thus, in general terms, shifts in The Chronicle’s representation of the Gukurahundi conflict show that the more it espoused the ethos of journalistic objectivity in its reportage, the more it moved towards a multi-party approach to peace journalism. This implies that the very criterion (objectivity) upon which proponents of peace journalism criticize mainstream journalism provides a foundation for peace frames. This chapter, thus, has partially demonstrated that the objectivity credo, in contrast to claims by proponents of peace journalism, brought The Chronicle closer to practicing peace-oriented journalism.


The discourses privileged, and discursive practices, used by The Chronicle show that stories in the thematic strands ‘dissidents’ and the ‘5th Brigade’ are consistent with the collaborative role of the media and those in the ‘unity’ thematic strand with the facilitative role (Christians et al. 2009). Stories that suggest a collaborative role show a close relationship between the newspaper and government, and exhibit characteristics of war/violence journalism, while those that suggest it was performing a facilitative role (‘unity’) exhibit characteristics of peace journalism (see Cottle 2006; Galtung 1998). The case of The Chronicle’s reportage of Gukurahundi shows that stories that did not espouse the norm of journalistic objectivity exhibited characteristics of war/violence journalism, while those that espoused some aspects of journalistic objectivity exhibited characteristics of peace journalism. Also, in consonance with Wolfsfeld (2004) argument, it can be noted that there is a relationship between political processes and media representations, although it is not easy to identify the direction of influence. In the final analysis, therefore, The Chronicle’s coverage of the Gukurahundi conflict shows that in performing the collaborative role, abandoning the objectivity norm and working too close to the power centre, the newspaper assumed characteristics consistent with war/violence journalism. Conversely, in performing the facilitative role, espousing journalistic objectivity, and by allowing multiple voices expression, the paper oscillated towards peace journalism. These shifts and tendencies are also evidently contingent on the behaviour of political actors which restricts space for media agency in conflict situations thereby limiting the efficacy of peace journalism. The more political actors take extreme positions, the higher the likelihood of war frames. Conversely, the more open political actors are to recognizing each other’s grievances, the highly likely it is that media are going to gravitate toward a multi-party form of peace journalism. Evidently, therefore, peace journalism may be difficult to perform in situations where political actors wield so much power over journalistic practice.


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