Thursday 31 January 2013

Zimbabwe strapped for cash or just another case of Contextomy?

How can a country’s Minister of Finance, even Zimbabwe’s, announce that they have only £138 left in their public accounts?

Zimbabwe’s money man, Tendai Biti has been reported saying that the country only had £138 left in its public account last week after paying its Civil Servants. However the following day some $30m of revenue has been paid in.

He later responded to BBC Africa’s Lewis Machipisa that his comment had been deliberately taken out of context and that “you journalists are mischievous and malicious.” The point he was trying to make apparently is that the government doesn’t have the funds to finance the rather suspect general election or the referendum on the constitution. He used the above reference in a metaphorical sense. Zimbabwe needs around £127m to pay for the democratic practices.

When you look at Zimbabwe’s economic track record, from the ‘bread basket’ of Africa, to hyperinflation, to today, such assessments of Zimbabwe’s finances in dire straits are not unimaginable. It was only four years ago in 2009 that the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe introduced a Z$100 trillion note equivalent at the time to £20.

Mr Biti’s claim that his comment was taken out of context and manipulated by journalists is not an isolated complaint. It has been a running theme in complaints about journalistic practice everywhere. The practice of using a quote out of context is sometimes referred to as contextomy (the practice of misquoting someone by shortening the quotation or by leaving out surrounding words or sentences that would place the quotation in context).

However, even if his quote was taken out of context, we have to remember that there’s no smoke without fire.


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