Sunday, 6 July 2008

MDC's claim on cadavers and natural wounds.

Last week’s Sunday Times carried a prominent report about an 11-month-old baby whose mother said his legs had been broken when he was dashed to the ground by Zanu-PF thugs.

The story, supplied by two freelance journalists, prompted readers to offer money for medical treatment and the newspaper decided to help.

However, doubts about the mother’s account arose when our reporter tried to arrange an operation. An orthopaedic surgeon said an x-ray of the child’s legs showed no sign of fractures. Doctors in Harare and London said he had club feet.

The mother, whose husband is an opposition councillor, repeatedly insisted that the child had been maimed when he was picked up from a bed and hurled to the floor. Her story, which was first reported in The New York Times, was reiterated last week by Newsweek, the US magazine.

While there is no suggestion that the mother’s account of an attack is false, doctors have yet to find any evidence to support her claims that her son was injured. Further x-rays are due tomorrow.

President Robert Mugabe’s government has virtually banned foreign journalists from Zimbabwe. As a result, most have had to report clandestinely on last month’s violent elections. The price of being caught is prison.

The clampdown can lead to problems with checking information. In this instance, a photographer took a poignant picture of the baby with his legs in plaster, sticking out at odd angles, as he sheltered in a church hall with others displaced by the violence.

Aware that other children have been hurt in attacks on the opposition, a freelance reporter who provided the story took the mother at her word. Part of this reporter’s article was then inserted into a front-page story by Christina Lamb without her knowledge.

Our inquiries in the past few days suggest we were wrong to report that the baby’s legs had been broken in an assault. For that, we unreservedly apologise.

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