Portuguese website fabricates Tsvangirai's death

Maputo — The Portuguese news service SAPO on Monday claimed that Zimbabwean Prime Minister and leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Morgan Tsvangirai, has died – and cited AIM as its source for this fabrication.

"Zimbabwe: Morte de Morgan Tsvangirai deveu-se a acidente de viacao (AIM)" ("Zimbabwe: death of Morgan Tsvangirai was due to a traffic accident (AIM)") reads the headline on the SAPO website.

The title is a complete invention of SAPO – the original AIM story bore the headline: "Zimbabwe/Colisao foi um acidente genuine: Tsvangirai" ("Zimbabwe/Collision was a genuine accident: Tsvangirai").

It takes staggering incompetence or bad faith to transform this headline into an announcement of the MDC leader’s death. Of course, a reader of the SAPO site who looks at the text of the article will realize that it has nothing to do with the headline – but there are plenty of people who skim through news sites looking at the titles.

AIM warned its subscribers to its Portuguese service that the news of Tsvangirai’s supposed death is entirely the responsibility of SAPO. AIM vigorously condemns this slipshod and irresponsible type of journalism, and has demanded an explanation from SAPO.

Morgan Tsvangirai has suffered a terrible loss in the death of his wife of 31 years, Susan, and deserves better treatment than this piece of sensationalist fiction dreamed up by an incompetent sub-editor on a Portuguese website. 

The SAPO story bears the timeline of 17.37 on 9 March. AIM became aware of this when puzzled readers telephoned the chief news editor later in the evening. The first thing the AIM newsroom did on Tuesday morning was to distribute a denial to Portuguese language subscribers, including SAPO. Yet at the time of writing this piece (09.00 on Tuesday), SAPO has not removed the phoney headline from the front page of its Mozambican site.

The Mozambican portal of SAPO was launched with great fanfare on 20 February. It is owned by the privatised Portuguese telecommunications company, Portugal Telecom (PT). It has persuaded most of the Mozambican media to contribute material to the portal, but this incident must raise questions about the seriousness of this sort of cooperation.