CAMPAIGNS: Zimbabwe is targeted over govt abuses - Media Relations

Client: Save Zimbabwe PR Team: Chelgate Campaign: Save Zimbabwe Timescale: July 2002 to present Budget: Undisclosed - from individual donations and from Chelgate

Following Zimbabwe's presidential election last March, several unnamed individuals approached Chelgate chairman and CEO Terence Fane-Saunders to voice concerns over the return to power of Robert Mugabe.

They explained the need for an international PR campaign addressing human rights abuses carried out by supporters of the ruling Zanu-PF party in the country, and highlighting the plight of a population faced by starvation.

The election was widely seen as fixed, with intimidation and ballot-rigging commonplace. Tens of thousands of 'war veterans', or members of the Youth Militia affiliated to Zanu-PF, intimidated, robbed, raped and killed opposition supporters. In March, Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth for a year and the European Parliament passed a resolution condemning the government's 'disastrous land policies'.

Although the Save Zimbabwe campaign would work with, among other groups, the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, it would not be politically affiliated. The controversial decision by England cricketers to play games in Zimbabwe in the World Cup next month has recently reignited interest in the country and its problems.

Objectives

To restore human rights, democracy and legitimate government to Zimbabwe.

To change the way the media reports on the country, moving its focus from land reform and its effects on white farmers to the need to support democratic change.

Strategy and Plan

While UK and international media attention has been focused on the plight of a few thousand white farmers forcibly removed from their plots under Mugabe's land reform programme, the campaign would seek to bring another message into the headlines: that six to eight million Zimbabweans could starve to death as a direct result of the government's agricultural policies.

Save Zimbabwe needed to shift the international news agenda towards this angle to broaden a story in danger of being sidelined. In addition to highlighting the famine issue in the west, the viewpoint of Zimbabwe's neighbours was also crucial.

African countries believed that western governments were only interested in Zimbabwe because white property interests - rather than the lives of half the population - were threatened by Mugabe. The influence of countries such as Nigeria, Botswana, Mozambique and in particular South Africa, would be a powerful tool in the restoration of democratic government to Zimbabwe.

Save Zimbabwe issued press releases on the famine, and detailed information - including estimates that 65-75 per cent of the population supports the MDC - to journalists covering the country.

The campaign smuggled data, photographs and film footage out of Zimbabwe, organised missions to Washington, South Africa and Canada and held meetings with NGOs and human rights groups. It also helped an undercover journalist into the country to report on the situation.

Discussions with policy-makers and opinion-formers were designed to build up international pressure on South Africa to act against Mugabe. Save Zimbabwe used as its chief spokesman Ephraim Tapa, president of the Zimbabwe Civil Service Employees Association, who had been abducted and tortured for a month by Zanu-PF supporters before being rescued by police last March.

The England cricket team's debate on whether or not to play in Zimbabwe for the World Cup has rekindled interest in the country.

Save Zimbabwe has been anxious not to condemn England cricketers for what it saw as their 'disappointing' but 'understandable' stance.

However, one of the key aims for Save Zimbabwe will be to deny Mugabe the opportunity to enjoy a "PR triumph" should the England cricket team play in Harare.

Throughout the run-up to arrangements for the Harare match, Chelgate has liaised with official cricket organisations, updating them on potential threats to security during such a visit.

Measurement and Evaluation

The quantity of news coverage in recent weeks has been helped by the imminent cricket World Cup. Save Zimbabwe has marked a change in the way the UK media covers Zimbabwe, with the pattern of coverage shifting to an understanding that the issues go well beyond the problems of white farmers.

Most UK newspapers, both broadsheet and tabloid, have run articles, including opinion pieces and leaders, on the famine and the morality of visiting Zimbabwe. Feargal Keane reported last week on the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe's rural areas for BBC News at Ten, with which campaigners had no direct involvement, but which carried the key messages disseminated by the campaign.

Save Zimbabwe facilitated an undercover visit by journalist Christian Fraser, who produced reports for Radio 5 Live. The Spectator political editor Peter Oborne made a Channel 4 documentary on the plight of black Zimbabweans in the country and the extent of government complicity in the famine, which again, highlighted the campaign's key points.

Results

The removal of Robert Mugabe from power and the election of a successor by a free and fair democratic process has not happened. But the focus of the international media has changed, focusing debate on Mugabe's future.

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