By Hopewell Chin’ono
I gave an old man a lift from Glen Norah into town this afternoon. We started talking about politics and the inevitable came up. Who will we vote for we asked each other?
He laid out his issues and then started talking about how he was confused by the messaging and the promises and what was being reported as already achieved post the Mugabe era.
This confusion reminded me of what I learned at University when I was taking a media course contributing towards my Master of Arts degree in International Journalist at London’s City University.
It is called the illusory truth effect or the validity effect.
Some scholars call it the reiteration effect or the truth effect.
It refers to the constant barrage of pictorial images and information that makes you believe a certain political messaging to be true over others after repeated exposure to it. There is a method to ZANUPF’s media blitz that is two fold, state media propaganda and advertisements.
These election campaign images that we are seeing everywhere are being buttressed by the constant state media propaganda messaging.
That is why the opposition should have demanded equal access to state media platforms as a condition to their participation in the general election.
This constant exposure to one story makes people rely on what they consider to be familiar with.
Of course someone like Thomas Mapfumo or Rueben Barwe will not be moved by this propaganda methodology but the average voter is not like Thomas Mapfumo or Rueben Barwe.
The average voter relies on average rationale and their main source of information is radio, state media’s Radio Zimbabwe. Propaganda is a strong tool towards persuasion and acceptance.
When the MDC-T was allowed to put its electoral political message across in 2008 using the state media platforms, it contributed towards Morgan Tsvangirai winning the election.
The head of ZBC at the time Henry Muradzikwa was immediately fired for refusing to deny the opposition space on ZTV and ZBC radio stations. That is why it is important for political parties and their presidential candidates to chose which media outfits they will speak to.
Outside of Zimbabwe, Emmerson Mnangagwa must focus his energies on North American media because the US political establishment is not sold to his project.
Lately the US senators who visited Zimbabwe and were sold to the idea of change as explained to them by Emmerson Mnangagwa have started to develop cold feet and doubt that the President will deliver any meaningful reforms according to my contacts in Washington DC.
This is because the government treats engagements as an event and no a process. There is no follow up and they don’t understand the power of engaging the media houses in those countries.
These are things that you can’t address with posters or advertising. The method is different and has to be through constant media engagements selling your narrative.
Nelson “Wamba” Chamisa must focus his energies on the British media because the local ambassador and the British foreign policy establishment have pitched their tent with the Emmerson Mnangagwa outfit.
Media can force political actors in those countries to look again and or shift their foreign policy positions. That is exactly what Wamba should be doing in England, putting across an alternative narrative to that held by the British government and hoping that the British media will force the political actors to defend their current position on Zimbabwe.
It will be a tall order because the Tory government sees Zimbabwe as a post Brexit economic outpost so they are treading carefully.
Donald Trump and Jonathan Moyo have bypassed the media by having strong Twitter messaging.
They speak directly to the people and their resonance whether in support of or against their positions does not diminish the social media power they wield.
Mainstream media now reacts to their social media posts to understand what they are thinking of.
Both ZANU PF and the MDCT Alliance have NO clear social media messaging strategies. They have an army of sometimes-unruly supporters that only defend their positions but are not capable of conceptualizing smart and intelligent political messaging.
ZANU PF has stuck with the old media messaging tools of state media and advertising which the MDCT has no access to and can’t afford respectively.
Researchers have constantly argued that familiarity can overpower rationality and that constant repetition of hearing the same thing can affect the hearer’s beliefs. That is what is called the illusory truth. It has an impact on how one manages their understanding of issues.
The rural communities are not oblivious to the objective reality that they live in. However Radio Zimbabwe pushes powerful messages that makes the rural folk doubt if they are making the right decisions or not.
People who understand a political issue to be true will end up doubting their truth if they are constantly bombarded with alternative facts.
That is why political campaigns the world over spend billions on election campaigning. That is also why WhatsApp messages are somehow changing the political thinking in certain demographic groups.
They make people start to doubt what they considered to be the truth if they are craftily and constantly put across.
So there is a method to ZANUPF’s media and advertising barrage, they do not care about the educated minority. Their focus is on the rural folk.
When for 16 times I received the picture attached taken by award winning photographer, Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi from family and friends, I thought of my Journalism Professor Colin Bickler. May his soul Rest In Peace.
He taught us that when there is a revolution happening in a neighbouring country, dictatorships will order that it is not reported on because it creates a new kind of truth that says “this can also be done here.”
So when election manuals talk about free and fair aspects of elections, they never leave out the media component because it is the primary seed in making undecided voters come to a rational or fatal conclusion.
There is a method to Nelson Chamisa and Tendai Biti going to a Pentecostal Church in the UK on Sunday. Many rational people I spoke to described how they were moved by his pulpit message and presence.
Wamba’s picture kneeling down before a child dressed in white holding hands in prayer evokes emotions of care, a God fearing leader and compassion.
This is straight out of the American election textbook of holding babies whilst campaigning.
It projects him as a loving politician when juxtaposed against ZANU PF’s Emmerson Mnangagwa and General Constantino Chiwenga’s tough guy images.
It is the power of visuals, messaging and what they mean to us. Those in political parties who refuse to understand the proven communication theories behind them can only do so at their own peril.
That is why Robert Mugabe, the quintessential Englishman would exchange his Seville row suit for a white garment and head out to Marange.
Hopewell Chin’ono is an award winning Zimbabwean journalist and documentary filmmaker. He is a CNN African journalist of the year and Harvard University Nieman Fellow.
His next film, State of Mind looking at mental illness in Zimbabwe is coming out soon. He can be contacted on [email protected] or on twitter @daddyhope