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IPI Watch List
IPI Watch List Report
Conditions in Zimbabwe remaine oppressive, and have spiraled to new lows in the aftermath of the disputed elections, held on 29 March 2008. Many journalists, including several international media outlets, were prohibited from covering the elections; others were detained and even beaten. With follow-up elections currently scheduled for 27 June, reports of press freedom violations have also multiplied.
Zimbabwe was placed on the IPI Watch List on 20 October 2001.
June 2008 Update
Conditions in Zimbabwe remained oppressive, and spiralled to new lows in the aftermath of disputed elections, held on 29 March.
The notorious Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) was amended in January 2008, but the changes triggered little other than confusion. They replaced the Media and Information Commission (MIC), previously responsible for evaluating journalists’ accreditation requests, with the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC). Accreditation remained mandatory, but the ZMC was not yet formed. To complicate matters, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) required applicants seeking to cover elections to first obtain accreditation from the MIC.
These inconsistencies did not prevent authorities from relying on the accreditation requirement to prohibit journalists from covering the elections, including several international media outlets. Those who reported without it were aggressively persecuted. Barry Bearak, a New York Times correspondent, and Stephan Bevan, a British freelancer, were arrested on 3 April and detained at the Harare police station for 5 days. The AIPPA-based charges against them were modified throughout their ordeal, then finally dropped by 18 April.
Initial results in the Presidential elections indicated that Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) had garnered more votes than President Robert Mugabe, but not the majority required to avoid a second round. The disputed results triggered a violent crackdown on opposition supporters. With follow-up elections currently scheduled for 27 June, reports of press freedom violations have also multiplied.
Stanley Karombo, a freelancer detained for several days in late April after taking photographs during a Mugabe speech, was badly beaten and required hospitalization. Mathew Takaona, president of the country’s Union of Journalists, was also assaulted. On 16 May, freelancer Sydney Saize was beaten by four men outside of Mutare. On 24 May, two staffers transporting 60,000 copies of The Zimbabwean on Sunday, a publication printed in South Africa, were stopped and beaten by armed men. The attackers then set fire to the truck containing the newspapers.
Harassment by judicial means also increased. In early May, Davison Maruziva, editor of The Standard, was charged with "publishing false statements prejudicial to the state and contempt of court" after running a column by an opposition politician critical of the current regime. Harrison Nkomo, a media lawyer, was charged with "undermining the authority or insulting the president", a criminal violation, for an alleged remark to Mugabe’s relative, a staffer at the Attorney General’s office, suggesting that Mugabe should step down.
The state-controlled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) was also severely effected by the clampdown. On 14 May, Henry Muradzikwa, the head of ZBC, was fired, reportedly after refusing to comply with orders to deny positive coverage to the MDC. (In September 2007, Muradzikwa had openly acknowledged in an appearance before a parliamentary committee that the broadcaster regularly encountered interference and censorship.) In a move widely viewed as an attempt to intimidate, in early June, eight other ZBC employees, including senior managers and reporters, were sent on two-month long paid vacation, ordered to surrender their ZBC identity cards, and instructed to stay away from both other employees and ZBC premises.
November 2007 Update
Despite a fierce battle by local and regional press freedom organisations to defend the right of journalists inside Zimbabwe to practice their profession, the government continues to suppress the media as well as pass legislation undermining freedom of expression.
The last six months have seen the passage of an Interception of Communications Law, journalists prosecuted for practicing "without a licence," and a continuation of the four-year legal battle to allow the banned Daily News the right to return to the newsstands.
In May, the House of Assembly examined the government’s proposed Interception of the Communications law. The Bill provided the government with the right to intercept private mail and telecommunications information and was criticised by press freedom and civil society organisations. According to the Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA), if passed, the Bill would join a raft of other restrictive legislation that interferes with freedom of expression. On the 13 June, the House of Assembly passed the Bill without amendment and President Mugabe later signed the Bill into law.
The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) continues to be applied against journalists. In May, Gift Phiri the chief reporter of The Zimbabwean faced charges of practising journalism without accreditation under Sections 79 and 80 of AIPPA. The journalist was arrested on 1 April 2007 and spent four nights in jail. Phiri was also assaulted while in the Central Harare police station. The charges were later dropped in October.
Journalist Bright Chibvuri, editor of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions' The Worker magazine also faced similar charges. The journalist had applied for accreditation from the Media and Information Commission (MIC), but had not received a response. Chibvuri was arrested on 3 March, but released two days later. He has since been accredited, but still faces prosecution.
In September, MISA produced a report on how the Broadcasting Services Act is being used to prevent new broadcasting owners from receiving licenses. In the report, the organization argues that the Broadcasting Authority appointed under the act has failed to license new players because "stringent criteria" prevent potential private broadcasters from winning licenses.
On 12 September, MISA highlighted the plight of the Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe and its newspapers the Daily News and Daily News on Sunday, which have been banned since 12 September 2003. Fours later, the legal case is still pending and has become one of Zimbabwe’s longest unresolved court cases. The Daily News was one of the most respected newspapers in Zimbabwe and was critical of the government of President Mugabe.
During late September, the chief executive officer of Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings (ZBH), Henry Muradzikwa, admitted that political interference and censorship of news reports occurred at the state-controlled national broadcaster. "We have been reporting on the basis of deception. What does the shareholder (government) want? The shareholder must make it," he said. Muradzikwa’s comments were made when he appeared before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Transport and Communications.
May 2007 Update
As the situation has become increasingly desperate in Zimbabwe, a number of civil society organisations have mounted legal challenges against the government both inside the country and before the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR). As a result, there is now a strong, coordinated response to media repression that may bring changes to Zimbabwe’s media environment.
In following this approach, the organisations, including MISA, have focused on a number of different areas: Pockets of independence in the judiciary, the shaming of Zimbabwe before the African Union and the ACHPR, and the creation of voluntary media bodies to show that the media can regulate itself. This new multifaceted strategy has encouraged some of the country’s judges to reassert their independence and, for the first time, there has been criticism from within the ruling Zanu-PF party of the government’s media policies.
It is too early to say that this approach will succeed, but it has taken advantage of the government’s own desire to use laws to repress the media and it is exposing weaknesses in these legal measures.
However, the independent media continues to suffer and there was an upturn in violence in March when the police beat trade unionists and members of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). One journalist was murdered after being abducted; others claimed to have been tortured while in custody.
In March, E-TV reporter, the South Africa-based Peter Moyo was fined for practising journalism without accreditation under the AIPPA law. On 3 March, Bright Chibvuri, the editor of The Worker was arrested for the same offence and held for two nights. The government also accused foreign journalists, including Jan Raath of the (London) Times and Peta Thorneycroft of the UK’s Daily Telegraph, in late March of fabricating the truth.
On 31 March, the body of Edward Chikombo, a part-time cameraman for ZBC was discovered close to the village of Darwendale, outside the capital Harare. Armed men had apparently taken Chikombo from his home in Glenview Township on 29 March.
Two journalists with state broadcaster ZBC were charged with "criminal abuse of duty as a public officer" for their reporting of diamond smuggling. Andrew Neshamba and William Gumbo face 15 years’ imprisonment. Police allege that Neshamba had assisted E-TV’s Peter Moyo in his own reports on diamond trafficking. On 2 April, John Perry of Time magazine was convicted under AIPPA of reporting on illegal gold mining. He spent three nights in custody.
Gift Phiri, a contributor to the London-based The Zimbabwean, was released on 5 April after spending four days in custody under the AIPPA law for practicing journalism without accreditation. He was immediately hospitalised for injuries allegedly suffered during his imprisonment and was told he would later face trial.
Concerning broadcasting, the government announced in March that it would create a 24-hour news station to counter Western propaganda. In the past, the government has regularly jammed the transmission of the London-based SW Radio Africa.
November 2006 Update
September protests by members of the Zimbabwean Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) showed that there are still organisations willing to protest government incompetence, spiralling inflation and high unemployment in the country; however, the protests led to a brutally violent backlash by the authorities and many trade union members were beaten and arrested. The media was also caught up in the ensuing violence.
Elsewhere, the government of President Mugabe jammed the London-based SW radio Africa and is dragging its heels over amendments to its broadcasting laws allowing private media to operate radio and television stations.
On 1 June, Zimbabwe’s Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Transport and Communications acknowledged that the country’s broadcasting laws were too stringent and prevented other "players" from owning television or radio stations.
During July, there were reports that the London-based SW Radio Africa was being jammed in and around the Zimbabwe’s capital Harare. The jamming was reportedly made possible due to technology supplied by the Chinese government.
On 19 July, journalists Godwin Mangudya, a freelance journalist formerly with the banned Daily News, and Ndamu Sandu of the privately owned weekly Zimbabwe Standard, were arrested while covering a demonstration. They were initially refused access to a lawyer, but were released on the following day after being forced to pay a fine. Cameraman Mike Saburi was arrested along with trade union protestors following the 13 September protests. The journalist was granted bail on 15 September and remanded for trial. At the time of his arrest, Saburi had been filming police attacking protestors.
The long-running criminal legal action in Zimbabwe against journalists and directors of the radio station Voice of the People (VOP) was heavily criticised on 25 September when a Harare magistrate refused to place the defendants on further remand. The magistrate’s refusal came in the face of numerous postponements of the case by prosecutors. Commenting on the case, the magistrate said the state’s bid to postpone the trial for a third time was "becoming a circus." All of the defendants are currently on bail. The case goes back to late 2005 when police raided the VOP offices and arrested a number of directors and journalists.
A statement in the state-owned Herald newspaper on 29 September from the Media and Information Commission (MIC) attacked MISA-Zimbabwe, together with the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) and the Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe (MMPZ). The statement accused the three organisations of convening clandestine meetings under the guise of media law reform.
In early October, four detectives from the police's Law and Order section went to the Harare distribution offices of The Zimbabwean weekly newspaper, which is published in London. The officers demanded information from the proprietor before confiscating documents concerning the export of the newspaper from the United Kingdom to South Africa.
May 2006 Update
During the last six months, the government of Zimbabwe has used the law, a profoundly biased media commission, and the police and security services to maintain pressure on the country’s independent media.
As a consequence, much of the independent media is tied up in bureaucracy as journalists fight for the simple right to practice their profession; while organisations such as the Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ), are involved in a battle to gain the right to operate. Late last year there was also a government-inspired campaign of intimidation against journalists who allegedly threatened national security.
Already denied a licence by the Media Information Commission (MIC), ANZ, the publishers of the Daily News and Daily News on Sunday, went to court in February to try to overturn the decision. In its judgement, the High Court quashed the MIC’s original decision and said the MIC should reconsider the application. Based on news reports, a final decision on the licence will be made by Tchaona Jokonya, the Information Minister.
The MIC also threatened one of Zimbabwe’s last independent news media, the Financial Gazette, with closure after it questioned the independence of the regulatory body. Elsewhere, on 2 February, the MIC renewed the licences of 15 journalists working for the privately owned Zimbabwe Independent. However, this was done only after the newspaper had retracted a 2005 story about the MIC.
In a case that sent a warning to other journalists in Zimbabwe, on 18 January, Sidney Saize, a journalist with the banned Daily News, was arrested on allegations of practicing journalism without accreditation under the repressive Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA). The journalist was released after three days.
On 15 December, police raided the independent news production company Voice of the People (VOP) in Harare. During the raid, equipment and documents were confiscated and staff arrested. The VOP was accused of broadcasting without the proper licence. On 19 December, three staff members, Maria Nyanyiwa, Nyasha Bosha, and Kundai Mugwanda, were released. Director John Masuki remained in jail, but was released on 23 December.
With its staff members facing prosecution, the VOP remained off the air into the New Year. In a new twist, on 24 January, six trustees of the VOP were charged with the same offence as staff members. They were later released from jail, but forced to routinely appear at a police station.
According to news reports, in December, there were rumours that the government had compiled a list of journalists and human rights activists. Against this background, on 8 December, Trevor Ncube, publisher of the South African Mail and Guardian newspaper, as well as Zimbabwe's The Standard and Zimbabwean Independent newspapers, had his passport confiscated by members of the Zimbabwean security forces.
It is believed that Ncube's passport was confiscated under a constitutional amendment that allows the state to confiscate passports or impose travel bans on those believed to represent a threat to the Zimbabwean state. After an international outcry, the passport was returned to him.
November 2005 Update
Given his intense dislike of the private media and his desire for control, the latter part of the year has seen President Robert Mugabe continue his assaults on the country's journalists. As a result, the country is now leading the way in showing how legislation can be used to suppress the media.
Over the last six months, the Media Information Council (MIC) has twice denied media organisations licenses to restart publishing, there was evidence that the Chinese government was helping to block radio broadcasts, and President Mugabe signed the repressive Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Bill that carries penalties of up to 20 years' imprisonment for journalists. However, there was also a string of court victories for the media revealing a judicial willingness to defy government wishes.
In a story published by the state-owned Herald newspaper on 13 July, the chair of the MIC said Africa Tribune Newspapers (ATN), publisher of the Tribune newspaper, would be denied a license to resume publication. The ATN license was originally suspended in June 2004 for failing to show it has adequate capital to continue publishing. On 18 July, Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ), the publisher of the Daily News and Daily News on Sunday, was also denied a license to publish by the MIC for breaching publishing rules.
Passed by Parliament at the end of 2004, on 2 June 2005, President Mugabe signed into law the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Bill. The law carries harsher penalties than the already existing Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), including prohibitions on inciting and promoting public disorder and undermining public confidence in the authorities.
In November, press freedom organisations complained about the constant jamming of the independent Voice of the People radio station. Viewed as an alternative to the state-owned Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), the station was the only one left broadcasting after the London-based SW Africa was itself jammed. It is widely believed that the government is using Chinese technology to jam broadcasts. The two countries have become increasingly close, as China develops closer trade relations with numerous African countries.
Aside from these violations, in August, a journalist at the Sun pleaded not guilty to charges of publishing falsehoods under POSA. There were accusations in June that the Minister of Information was interfering in the editorial content of the state-run Zimbabwe Broadcasting holdings; award-winning veteran photojournalist Fidelis Zvomuya was detained by police for over four hours while covering the campaign to demolish thousands of homes.
Despite the ongoing problems for press freedom there was some good news. In August the state discontinued two charges of publishing false statements against the former editor of the Standard weekly, Bornwell Chakaodza, and reporter Valentine Maponga. They were charged in 2004 with publishing a story threatening public order.
Also in August, Kelvin Jakachira a journalist who apparently worked without accreditation for the banned Daily News, in breach of AIPPA, was acquitted by a magistrates court. In October, authorities appeared to be hesitating about continuing with charges against 40 media organizations, under the AIPPA law, but this has not led to the charges being dropped.
May 2005 Update
It was another busy six months for President Robert Mugabe in the lead-up to the parliamentary elections held in March 2005. Confronted by a determined opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, and the remnants of an independent media, the administration's plan was threefold: use state media to saturate the public with the alleged successes of the ruling Zanu-PF party, close remaining independent media organisations and subdue or deport troublesome foreign journalists.
Once again, when combined with gross electoral fraud, the media plan proved successful and the months prior to the election saw a succession of press freedom violations, including the enforced departure of several foreign journalists, the arrest and attempted prosecution of two others, the closure of the newly opened and independent Weekly Times and the swift passage of a repressive law that threatens a twenty year prison term for misreporting.
In mid-February, the Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) correspondent for Zimbabwe, Jan Raath, and other journalists who work with him, had his offices searched and was questioned by security services who accused him of lacking the proper accreditation, possible spying and using illegal communications equipment. Fearing for their liberty Raath, Brian Latham, who works for both British and South African news organisations, and Angus Shaw, of the Associated Press, quickly left Zimbabwe.
On 31 March, the day of the elections, Toby Harnden, chief foreign correspondent for the London-based Sunday Telegraph, and photographer Julian Simmonds were arrested at a polling station outside Harare and charged under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) with taking photographs without the necessary accreditation. The journalists were held in prison before being finally acquitted of all charges on 14 April and then deported. So far, no prosecutions of journalists have succeeded under the AIPPA law.
A month before the elections, the Media and Information Commission (MIC), the media enforcement body created by AIPPA, closed the independent regional newspaper, the Weekly Times, for one year because it had allegedly misrepresented itself. The MIC viewed the paper as being overtly political in nature rather than social, in apparent contradiction of its original application to publish. The paper had been printing for eight weeks.
President Robert Mugabe also this year quickly signed another repressive law: The Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Bill carries up to 20 years' imprisonment, heavy fines, or both, for publishing "false" information deemed prejudicial against the state. Moreover, the law represents a high water mark in the government's attempts to silence the media and is widely seen as complementing the AIPPA law.
Elsewhere, the AIPPA law was itself amended, and in March the Supreme Court upheld the right of the MIC to deny the popular Daily News the right to publish. However, the Supreme Court did order the MIC to reconsider its original 2003 decision within 60 days.
There were also problems for foreign media attempting to gain accreditation to cover the March elections. The South Africa-based Talk Radio 702, and its sister station, 567 CapeTalk, were only granted accreditation on 24 March 2005. They had initially been refused the right to cover the elections.
November 2004 Update
With elections in March 2005, it is doubtful that there will be an improvement in the Zimbabwean media environment. Indeed, based on past experiences of elections in the country, it is very likely that President Robert Mugabe's government will do everything in its power to stifle and suppress the remaining independent media to ensure that reporting on the elections supports the ruling Zanu-PF party.
As press freedom organizations feared, a particularly strong weapon for the government has been the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA). The Media and Information Commission (MIC) have applied this repressive law enthusiastically and a number of media organizations have faced closure.
On 10 June, The Tribune became the second newspaper to be closed under AIPPA when the MIC suspended it for 12 months for "minor" breaches of the act. One day prior to the closure, on 9 June, four directors of The Tribune's parent company, Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ATZ), pleaded not guilty to publishing without a license and contempt of court. The charges against the four men were later dismissed.
The Zimbabwean authorities also continue to aggressively harass and intimidate the media. On 23 September two journalists, editor Vincent Kahiya, reporter Augustine Mukaro and general manager, Raphael Khumalo, of the Zimbabwe Indepndent, one of the country's few remaining independent newspapers, were detained by police under a section of AIPPA concerning malicious content.
AIPPA was applied again when editor of The Standard, Bornwell Chakaodza, was given a 1 October deadline to hand over a photo negative. Taken on 29 August, the photo showed President Mugabe pulling up his trousers with the headline, "Smartening Up." Problems for The Standard continued when special correspondent, Richard Musazulwa, appeared in court on 13 October charged with publishing falsehoods over a story claiming army recruits had deserted due to hunger and over-training.
Some independent journalists have also been pressured when reporting on court hearings. On 30 September, freelance journalist Frank Chikowore was barred from covering the remand of women arrested in Chegutu while on their way to protest in Harare. Police confiscated Chikowore's national identity card and passport and told him he could collect the documents upon production of his press accreditation card issued by the Media and Information Commission (MIC).
The media have also been dragged into the government's vicious battle with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). While on a provincial tour, on October 3, Information Minister, Jonathan Moyo, said until the MDC were willing to act as a "loyal" opposition party, they would be denied access to state media.
After strengthening the AIPPA act, the Zimbabwean government has managed to further destroy the independent media in the country. With indefinite remand for journalists, as well as the failure to set court dates, the courts are also being used to exhaust journalists both physically and financially. Such acts are supported by the state security apparatus which is willing to carry out the bidding of the government without much concern for the separation of powers. Once again the situation remains extremely bleak for Zimbabwe's media.
May 2004 Update
Continuing its long established policy of ignoring international condemnation, the last six months have seen the government of President Robert Mugabe tighten its grip on the media in Zimbabwe. Throughout this period there have been attempts to prevent newspapers from being published, journalists have been beaten and arrested, and the country’s repressive media laws have been rigorously applied. While the situation differs little from last year, the international community now appears at a loss about how to proceed against a country that so flagrantly disregards human rights law.
One of the most worrying developments is the government’s legal action against the Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ) -- the publishers of The Daily News and The Daily News on Sunday. In September 2003, The Daily News, which had been a constant critic of government policy, was shut down. Since then it has fought a long battle in the courts to overturn this decision.
On 25 October 2003, the newspaper published a special edition after being awarded an operating license by the courts. However, the police subsequently closed the newspaper down again. Lawyers then sought an order re-opening the newspaper and while the courts have found for ANZ, the police have disobeyed its orders. Finally, in January, the newspaper resumed publication but fears remain that the newspaper will once again be closed down.
During early February, Zimbabwe’s Supreme Court upheld the Information and Protection of Privacy Act that enforces the mandatory registration of all journalists and creates a media council lacking in independence to oversee the profession. Under the legislation, those who fail to register their media with the MIC and journalists who practice without accreditation face fines and up to two years’ imprisonment.
Aside from legal developments, there are routine attacks on journalists by police and other groups within Zimbabwean society. On 18 November 2003 Shadreck Pongo, a photojournalist with The Standard newspaper, was severely beaten and injured by police in Harare. Moreover, four journalists from The Independent newspaper were arrested on 10 January and accused of insulting Mugabe.
Elsewhere, journalists from the state newspapers have not escaped the attentions of the government. In February, three journalists from the state owned The Herald were dismissed for working with the Voice of America. In a separate case, the news editor of The Herald, along with one of his reporters, face criminal proceedings for allegedly defaming a leader of the Zanu-PF party.
On 25 and 26 March, police in Bulawayo raided the offices of Radio Dialogue, a community radio station, and arrested several staff members. The officers proceeded to search the station’s eight offices and two studios and seized documents. They also recorded information about the station's 17 employees.
September 2003 Update
With the country tumbling into further economic decline, the pressure on the media has increased. The removal of Andrew Meldrum this year was proof, if it was needed, that the government is determined to rid Zimbabwe of all foreign reporters. Domestic journalists have also faced enormous difficulties with Zimbabwe’s new repressive laws severely impacting upon independent reporting.
In November 2002, the Information Ministry refused to renew the work permit of Stéphane Barbier, the Agence France-Presse bureau chief in Harare. The British cricket writer Simon Briggs of the Daily Telegraph was also barred by immigration officers at Harare International from entering Zimbabwe in February.
Questions of accreditation have also affected local journalists. In March, journalist Stanley Karombo was released on bail. Karombo was arrested under the "Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act" ("AIPPA"), for allegedly practicing journalism without accreditation.
One of the severest violations during the year was the intimidation and subsequent deportation of Andrew Meldrum, the Zimbabwe correspondent for the Guardian. On 16 May, Meldrum was ordered by immigration officers to leave the country. The journalist, who last year successfully fought a legal battle to stay in Zimbabwe, was physically manhandled and forced onto a London-bound Air Zimbabwe flight. Meldrum had been declared an "undesirable inhabitant" by the authorities.
In a serious incident on 2 June, two journalists from the "Voice of the People" Communications Trust were detained, interrogated, beaten and had their mobile phones and recorders confiscated by ruling Zanu-PF youths and war veterans.
On 11 June, the Zimbabwean Parliament passed into law amendments to AIPPA. The government said the amendments were intended to correct anomalies and errors apparent after the law was signed by President Robert Mugabe in March 2002. The amendments seek to extend the definition of who is a journalist, the mass media service and the powers of a government-appointed Media and Information Commission.
Death threats are once again being used against journalists. In June, the weekly Sunday Mail, in which the Zimbabwean government has the majority share, placed its political editor, Munyaradzi Huni, under 24-hour guard. Huni had been receiving threats from unknown persons. On June 26, Daily News editor Nqobile Nyathi was arrested and charged under the "Public Order and Security Act" ("POSA") for allegedly publishing advertisements insulting the president.
Toward the end of June, Sam Nkomo, chief executive officer of the Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe ("ANZ"), publisher of The Daily News, Moreblessing Mpofu, the newspaper's commercial director, and Gugulethu Moyo, the ANZ's legal advisor, were charged under POSA on 30 June. The South African press freedom organisation MISA also found itself the subject of a verbal tirade from Minister of State for Information and Publicity Jonathan Moyo who accused the organisation in August of promoting misunderstandings between the Zimbabwean government and the private media.
On August 8, a group of young men brutally assaulted Flata Kavinga, a reporter for Zimbabwe's English-language weekly The Midlands Observer. According to sources at least two of the attackers were members of Zimbabwe's ruling Zanu-PF.
November 2002 Update
For Zimbabwean journalists and foreign correspondents alike, it has been a particularly bad six months. The government appears determined to silence the critical reporting of the independent media and has remained deaf to the appeals of non-governmental organisations, inter-governmental organisations and individual governments. Once again, the overwhelming impression left by the Zimbabwean government is that of an administration that no longer cares about how it is perceived by the outside world.
Since the last board meeting, there has been further evidence of pressure on the government controlled media, the closure of a media outlet, increased attempts to cleanse Zimbabwe of foreign correspondents, the continued harassment and intimidation of local journalists and a bomb attack on a local media outlet.
Regarding broadcasting, Joy TV was closed down this year on the grounds that it had violated the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA). The station had been leasing a station from the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) but this was declared illegal. As a result, the ZBC now has a monopoly over broadcasting with the government using the BSA to impede the formation of other media outlets.
The trial of The Guardian correspondent, Andrew Meldrum, under new laws which allowed journalists to be prosecuted for false news, provided an indication of how deeply wedded the Zimbabwean government is to the principle of removing all foreign correspondents in the country. Furthermore, this view was reinforced when, upon winning his legal case, Meldrum was served with a deportation order. Griffin Shea, a correspondent for Agence France Presse, was also forced to leave the country after the non-renewal of his permit.
Passed in February, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act was amended to charge exorbitant fees to international media outlets for the right to report in Zimbabwe. The new amendment required media to disclose their financial status and pay an annual levy of half of one percent of their annual gross profit. The levy will be channelled into a government media fund. This has provoked outrage among international media organisations and is being challenged in the courts; it is a further indication of the government’s wish to control reporting in the country.
Local journalists are also routinely harassed and intimidated. In July, Chris Gande, a journalist for the independent Daily News was charged under Section 80, subsection 1(b), of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, for allegedly "writing falsehoods". His arrest is only one of a number of arrests and prosecutions of local journalists. Since March, 36 journalists have been arrested and 13 charged eight of them are accused of writing false news. The government has also installed a new Media Commission requiring all journalists to register with the body. In practice, it amounts to another barrier to practicing journalism in Zimbabwe.
In one of the worst incidents, the radio station the Voice of the People was bombed on 29 August. According to eye-witnesses the attack was carried out by three men who went to the station and threw a bomb into the office. Security guards were also allegedly threatened by the three men during the incident. Fortunately, no one was injured in the attack but the station was completely destroyed.
With the media hemmed in on all fronts, it is all but impossible to highlight a positive feature in the Zimbabwe media scene.
Press Freedom Mission to Zimbabwe
May 7 – 11, 2001
During a four-day mission to Harare, Zimbabwe, organized by the World Press Freedom Committee, it was apparent that journalists and news media there are under intense pressure, especially in the run-up to presidential elections in 2002. Given the complexity of Zimbabwe’s current social and political environment, it is impossible to examine the nation’s press freedom issues outside of the overall political context.
Interviews with government officials, journalists, clergy and non-profit group representatives yielded a picture of efforts by the ruling regime and its ZANU-PF political party supporters to curb scrutiny of government actions and to suppress criticism of the Mugabe regime, especially in the news media. We see a newly adopted broadcast law and a proposed new media law as further evidence of the government’s attempts to restrict reporting and control the news reaching Zimbabwe’s citizens.
David Dadge, International Press Institute, Vienna
Troubled for some time by reports of increasing pressure and restrictions on independent news media in Zimbabwe, the World Press Freedom Committee initiated an investigative mission to that country’s situation. The mission followed a May 3-5 African media conference sponsored by UNESCO in Windhoek, Namibia, on the 10th anniversary of the historic 1991 Windhoek Declaration of press freedom principles, and a May 6 meeting of the Coordinating Committee of Press Freedom Organizations, hosted by the WPFC.
At its meeting in Windhoek, the Coordinating Committee delegated representatives to visit Zimbabwe for the purpose of investigating the deterioration of press freedom there.
In Harare, we set out to contact people concerned with and involved in Zimbabwe’s news media, for exposure to the widest possible range of views. Our goals were to obtain a full and objective picture of Zimbabwe’s press freedom situation; to encourage journalists to report independently; and to urge government officials to respect and support the news media’s right to seek and impart information.
Discussions with journalists, government officials, clergy and readers painted an alarming picture of the state of press freedom and, in parallel, the future of democracy in Zimbabwe.
Copies of our preliminary findings were distributed at a press conference in Harare.
In our view, the desire of President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party to remain in office is at the bottom of Zimbabwe’s current unrest. The struggle for control results in Mugabe’s unwillingness to entertain criticism and opposition or to respect the rule of law.
A major impediment to a lively and democratic discourse on public policy and social issues is the polarization of the population into two main camps: those who support ZANU-PF and those who oppose it. The Mugabe administration feeds this conflict by stressing constantly that those who do not support his party are disloyal to Zimbabwe –a dangerous confusion of party and state.
I. Factors affecting Zimbabwe’s political, social and media environment
Upcoming 2002 presidential election.
President Robert ’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party faces strong opposition from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party. Mugabe has indicated he plans to win, regardless of what it takes. "I am firmly asserting to you," he told a rally in April, "that there will never come a day when the MDC will rule this country – never, ever."
The leader of the MDC party, Morgan Tsvangirai, faces trial before the Supreme Court on state charges of terrorism, after he said in September that President Mugabe should step down or risk being removed from office violently. If convicted, Tsvangirai could face a life sentence. But even a sentence of six months would invalidate his right to oppose Mugabe in the upcoming election.
Other opposition party members, as well as journalists, have been charged under the same Southern Rhodesia-era law invoked against Tsvangirai. Upon his election 20 years ago, President Mugabe vowed to eliminate the old Law and Order (Maintenance) Act – used by Ian Smith’s white-settler government against black nationalists and other opposition -- but Mugabe’s administration has instead invoked the law vigorously to stifle opposition and criticism.
Land dispute and confiscation of farms.
Government-backed "war veterans," many of whom are in their 20s and were not yet born at the time of the struggle in then-Southern Rhodesia for majority rule, have waged a bloody war on landowners, killing farmers and confiscating their farms in the name of land redistribution justice.
Violence, political instability and economic crisis.
Paramilitary group attacks on civilians and non-governmental groups including CARE and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation have led to withdrawal from Zimbabwe by the British Council, an important source of culture and information for Zimbabweans, and to possible closure of foreign embassies in Harare. Days after the WPFC delegation’s visit to Zimbabwe, the Canadian government announced sanctions on Harare, suspending new development aid in protest against the increasing violence.
Zimbabwe suffers severe shortages of hard currency and gasoline, and grain shortages are expected soon. Unemployment has soared to near 60%, hospitals and schools are in dire need of supplies and a quarter of the population is infected with the HIV virus.
Zimbabwe’s involvement in the war continuing in neighboring Congo.
Zimbabwe’s backing of the Kabila government’s war against Rwanda and domestic insurgents in the Democratic Republic of Congo has drained the country of people and money. Some 13,000 troops have been deployed to the DRC, at a cost the government places at US $3 million per month, but which others estimate at as much as US $1 million a day.
Government antipathy toward news media.
The ruling ZANU-PF party rejects arguments that the country’s problems rest with the government, calling such assertions "media fiction" and "nonsense." It attributes Zimbabwe's economic hardships to what it characterizes as sabotage and lies, being spread by "imperialists, neocolonialists and sell-outs in the so-called independent press" in Zimbabwe as well as "international media bent on derailing the progress of Africans and Africa."
The government routinely castigates local and foreign journalists for their reports on Zimbabwe, and has brought numerous legal actions against independent media, often invoking the Law and Order (Maintenance) Act, the Official Secrets Act, the Defense Act, the Censorship and Entertainment Control Act and the Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament Act. While under arrest on charges of "publishing information likely to cause public alarm and despondency," The Standard chief writer Ray Choto and editor Mark Chavunduka were tortured with electrical wires applied to all parts of their naked bodies.
New broadcast law.
Passed in parliament on a fast-track schedule pushed by the governing party and without consultation with media representatives, the new Broadcasting Services essentially gives to the minister of information the power to license, regulate and punish broadcasters in Zimbabwe.
This is seen by journalists and opposition politicians as a crude attempt to control political news in the period preceding next year’s election.
Proposed "Freedom of Information Law."
The name of this bill belies its contents, which rather than resulting in freedom of information, would severely restrict the free flow of information. It would, among other things, bar foreign investment in the media; require fulfillment of stringent accreditation rules amounting to licensing; and provide for a legally mandated media code of ethics and a two-tiered press council, controlled by the information ministry, to enforce it.
II. Views of Journalists and Government Officials
The WPFC’s first meeting was with presidential spokesman George Charamba, a highly intelligent and articulate man with an academic background in literature and history.
"We have lots of media doers in Zimbabwe," he told us, "but not many media thinkers." Because few journalists are trained in that field, he said, the administration seeks to require a minimum level of journalism training before a reporter can be certified to work. Asked what he would do with journalists if named editor of a major paper, he replied,"I would send them to school."
The administration’s new "Freedom of Information" bill – as yet unpublished – thus includes a requirement for a certain level of training, and for government certification (licensing) before a journalist can work.
Charamba said the goal is to develop journalists who can "conceptualize journalism in a Zimbabwe context." He did not elaborate on the meaning of that "context".
Charamba said there is no such thing as an "independent" press in Zimbabwe. Even if a newspaper is "independent" of government control, he said, it is dependent on another power, whether it be business, a civic group, veterans, commercial farmers, the opposition MDC party, the newspaper proprietor or the army.
Their control of media coverage, he said, is achieved by barring unfriendly journalists from news events; by making themselves either available or unavailable depending on whether the reporter is a friend; through threats of legal action; by assaults on vendors; and by withholding advertising. "Don’t talk about ‘both’ sides," he said. "Talk about ‘all’ sides."
He claims that journalists approach news sources to "confirm a view, not to seek it," and that resulting stories are lopsided. "I think freedom of expression, guaranteed under our constitution, is the right of the reader, not of the journalist," Charamba said, adding that the new information bill is designed to benefit the reader by providing mechanisms for the reader to have access to any information in the "public interest," not just information the government has. Presumably, this might mean that a "reader" could demand to know the name of reporters’ sources and other information normally not considered relevant to FOI laws.
Other features of the planned law:
A code of ethics for news media.
A two-tiered press council. The first is a group formed voluntarily by journalists to adjudicate problems and hear complaints. The second, appointed by the information minister, would have judicial power to enforce the code if the authorities are dissatisfied with the action of the "voluntary" body.
Charamba’s boss, Information Minister Jonathan Moyo, told us journalists would not be consulted before the media law bill goes to parliament. It is up to parliament, not the public, to make laws, he said.
An indication of what is to come lies with Zimbabwe’s new broadcast law, vigorously opposed by most journalists and much of the public. Among other provisions, it forbids foreign ownership of broadcast media in Zimbabwe, and requires that 75% of all programming be local. No private company or individual may own a broadcast transmitter.
The new act establishes the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Authority with powers to regulate the industry. The ZBA is intended to grant licenses to radio and TV broadcasters, but Information Minister Moyo outlined the procedures that had to be followed for the full implementation of the ZBA. It had to draw up the regulations under which it would operate and produce a frequency plan for the broadcasting spectrum. Moyo said he was unable to say how long this process would take and reacted sharply when he was asked whether it would take a year, (presidential elections are in about a year) saying "That’s political question."
It was hard to avoid the conclusion that the process would be stretched out so long that licenses for stations likely to be critical of the government might be granted only at a time when the least harm would be done to Mugabe’s presidential campaign, if at all before the election.
Charamba discussed the recent deportation of two foreign journalists – Joseph Winter of BBC and Mercedes Sayagues, a writer for South Africa’s Mail and Guardian newspaper.
He asserted that Winter had his working documents illegally doctored and that Ms. Sayagues was kicked out because she was a lobbyist for the opposition, not a "real" journalist. Both had produced reports critical of the Mugabe government.
He acknowledged that the arrest and torture of two journalists of The Standard showed a "tendency by authorities to overreact" at times. Editor Mark Chavanduka and chief writer Ray Choto were charged with for publication of a story about a possible coup plot being hatched against President Mugabe. Charamba said it is unjustified to torture journalists, "but we have a professional and ethical obligation to make sure it (Zimbabwean journalism) is beyond reproach."
Pikirayi Deketeke, editor of the government-controlled daily, The Herald, told us that "as long as we’re professional, we don’t have any problems…. What we don’t do is print a story without verifying or balancing." He sympathized with Choto’s and Chavanduka’s suffering, and noted the January bombing of presses belonging to another independent, The Daily News. No one has been charged with either crime. Deketeke doubted that government people were responsible. "Anything negative is blamed on the government," he said. "Would the government really be stupid enough to do that?"
"We believe the government has an obligation to explain itself," Deketeke said. "If it is wrong, they open themselves to criticism." He said sometimes the government overreacts when it is criticized.
Pointing to a cartoon of himself in the competing paper, The Daily News, Deketeke said, "That’s what newspapers do. If we could laugh about it, it would help."
Since no on-paper version of the new media bill has been published, he couldn’t comment on it, he said, but he agrees with the no-foreign-ownership aspect of the broadcast bill, and of its rules for high local content.
Deketeke admitted that circulation is down, from 120,000 a year ago, to 80,000 now.
Jonathan Moyo, Minister of State for Information and Publicity
Mr. Moyo has been called Zimbabwe’s de facto prime minister, having extraordinary power in matters not just pertaining to information but in all aspects of government, law enforcement, judicial affairs and sway with the president, Robert Mugabe.
A highly intelligent individual with extensive experience living and teaching in democratic countries (including the United States and South Africa) Moyo clearly knows what democratic governance involves, and is most certainly aware that Zimbabwe does not function in a democratic manner. It is apparent to us that this is precisely the way the Mugabe administration wishes the situation to continue, as it seeks to ensure its own dominance in the 2002 presidential election. Our view is that there is nothing inadvertent, innocent or naive about the authoritarian conduct of Zimbabwe’s current leadership.
Mr. Moyo argued unapologetically for restrictive rules and new laws to regulate the news media. He reacted angrily when asked what government investigators are doing to bring to justice those responsible for bombings at The Daily News, for police torture of Standard editors Ray Choto and Mark Chavanduka and for beatings of AP and SABC stringers by men dressed in army uniforms. Mr. Moyo said no progress had been made. At this point he threatened to walk out of the interview.
Other points in a 2?- hour interview with Moyo:
There is no need or intention to consult journalists about a proposed "Freedom of Information Act," as it is "parliamentarians, not journalists, who make the laws." He said the bill, which has not yet been put on paper, would likely come up at the next parliamentary session, which begins in July, rather than in the few weeks remaining in the current session.
He asserted the bill is "very comparable to FOI legislation found in constitutional democracies around the world … because we are a constitutional democracy."
Such a law, however, seems to us more a restrictive new media law than a law that will increase access to public information. Among other things, it provides for licensing of journalists and a statutory press council – concepts generally rejected by journalists as infringements on freedom of the press.
The bill will also include NGOs in the definition of "public officials," he said, thus opening their books and records to scrutiny.
Moyo defended the new broadcasting act, which requires radio stations within three years to fill three fourths of their air time with local broadcast content. Violators will be given variations of warning, he said, perhaps first with yellow cards, then red, etc.
Moyo decried the coverage given the Mugabe administration by independent local media, most recently a story in The Zimbabwe Independent, quoting himself, debunking the Mugabe government in an article written some years ago. Moyo said his comments were "taken out of context and published .. by people with an agenda. … It is shameful." He said The Independent had gotten hold of a private e-mail message. ( However, Trevor Ncube, publisher of The Independent, said the comments came straight from a column written by Moyo specifically for the newspaper.)
"Reporting news in a fair, accurate and complete way – that is my dream for Zimbabwe," Moyo said.
But he added that he is so sure his remarks will not be reported accurately by Zimbabwe’s independent (he calls it "oppositional") press that he does not answer phone calls from certain reporters and media. "Every story in The Daily News is angled toward the MDC (the main opposition party to Moyo’s ZANU-PF).
Geoff Nyarota, editor-in-chief of The Daily News, said his newspaper is shut out of government news conference. He denied a link with the MDC, but said many of the goals espoused by the party are goals of anyone desiring more openness in Zimbabwe. Calls for free and fair elections and prosecution of crimes are not partisan demands, he said, just normal aspirations of the people. Another editor said, "We might agree with the MDC (opposition party) but that doesn’t mean we support them. It doesn’t mean I will use the newspaper to campaign for the MDC."
The five members of our delegation accompanied Nyarota to Harare Central Police Station later in the day of our meeting with Moyo. For the second time in a month, Nyarota had been charged with criminal defamation over Daily News reports about a law suit filed in New York against President Mugabe by Evelyn Masaiti, the opposition member of parliament for a rural constituency, and three relatives of victims of violence surrounding elections in June 2000.
The Daily News and The Standard reported that the four sued Mugabe in the USA for damages suffered; the Mugabe government has in turn sued the newspaper for defamation, claiming the newspapers had published "persistent false and malicious reports."
"This is to harass us," Nyarota said, noting that even if dismissed, such legal actions cost the paper money, cost him his time and generally distract him and his staff from their work.
Gerry Jackson, a radio and television broadcaster who has lived and worked in Zimbabwe for 30 years, is enmeshed in a struggle to launch her independent Capital Radio, an enterprise that opened in September and broadcast for just six days before government police raided the premises and seized her transmitter. Moyo says the station is "illegal" and a "pirate." Jackson says the government, through the new and draconian broadcast law, makes it impossible for independent stations to start up or function. She is challenging the law, but believes that "Capital will not be a reality until the government changes."
Jackson, like other journalists in Zimbabwe, hold out hope that the courts will help right things. But, she said, only the Supreme Court seems to have resisted interference by the ruling party. But the government has ignored several Supreme Court decisions, including one authorizing her radio station, and some judges known for their integrity have been fired or forced to resign.
The broadcasting field is hobbled not only by government interference, Jackson said, but also by a lack of trained personnel. She said fully half of Zimbabwe’s independent journalists have left the country in the past year, finding no promise of career satisfaction at home. "You can’t do investigative journalism because you can’t find out anything," she said. "It’s been almost impossible to get the government to speak to you." In addition, she said, journalists have been unwilling to stand up. "Everyone’s become spineless. .. people are too scared to talk."
Basildon Peta and Abel Mutsakani, both editors at the respected Financial Gazette and leaders of the 400-member Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, say they will lead a journalists’ virtual boycott of the government’s proposed new media law. "We reject it in its entirety. We want a new process in which we are involved," Peta said. "We can’t have a process where a minister sits in his office and decides something so crucial." He said the union will work toward the bill’s defeat in Parliament. "We’ve decided to engage them. We know it will cause us problems, and I’m not optimistic we will succeed in blocking it. But we must stand up. We have to put up resistance or they will interpret our silence as agreement." He attributes the government’s interest in new media restrictions to the regime’s "desperation, in advance of the 2002 election."
"One thing we’re sure of," said Mutsakani. "The media will not be bound by it (the new law)."
Peta said the WPFC mission represents important support and encouragement for journalists in Zimbabwe. "We feel threatened. We are very afraid. I think you people will have a great impact. The more you come and ask these people questions, the more they will know the world is watching."
Trevor Ncube, publisher and chief executive of the weekly Independent and the Sunday Standard, indicated that Mr. Moyo, the minister of information, was once a harsh critic of President Mugabe, and wrote articles critical of Mugabe for publication in the weeklies.
Like Geoff Nyarota of The Daily News, Ncube received a summons to Central Police while the WPFC mission was in Harare. For the second time in as many years, the newspaper faces criminal charges -- under the old colonial Censorship Act -- for publishing Reuters photographs showing naked bodies. The latest photo, published in The Independent’s Jan. 12 edition and captioned "Bare Buns," shows a back view of a group of nudists on a beach in New Zealand.
The newspaper’s photo editor was obliged to appear at the police station, be fingerprinted and interrogated and file a plea – a process consuming 1? hours, slightly less than the time spent at the station by Geoff Nyarota two days later.
"This is nonsensical," said Ncube. "The intention is to harass us, to keep us away from publishing the newspaper and to remind us that Big Brother is watching. It forces us to spend money we don’t have. It forces us to spend time on irrelevant issues."
Likewise, he said, such actions waste police time, and investigators often sympathize with the journalists. "The first time, he said, "the police were laughing."
Ncube recalled that when Robert Mugabe first ran for election to the presidency, he vowed to eliminate restrictive media laws imposed by the Ian Smith white settler regime. Instead, he said, Mugabe has found the laws convenient for his own use, and has taken no action to repeal them.
Like Mugabe, Ncube said, Moyo "is not a democrat. Jonathan confuses the party with the state. If you criticize the party, your patriotism is questioned."
Ncube expects increasing pressure and difficulty in the months leading to the 2002 elections, which could be scheduled by March. "We don’t know what the day holds for us when we wake up. … This is a government that has never been tolerant of the independent press. This is a party that has always been intolerant of a free and independent media. They will continue to shoot the messenger."
Ncube is asked, "Will elections be free and fair?" His response: "Absolutely not. The ZANU-PF party is now reworking its strategy. It will be violence plus outright rigging. They’ll make sure there is no foreign press, no international monitors. Because if you do a free and fair election, there is no way ZANU-PF can win."
Moyo, says Ncube, is "responsible for keeping the party alive. He’s given it a new lease on life. But that strategy depends on violence, because they’ve failed to win the hearts and minds of the people."
"This is a very abnormal situation. The rule of law has been thrown out the window. People have started to appreciate the value of the independent media. They indicate that they do appreciate the role we play: exposing corruption, human rights abuses, misgovernance. People value transparency and accountability and those are the values included in press freedom. People are choosing with their feet, by not buying the government papers. They are sick and tired of the government."
Ncube thanked the press freedom delegation for its interest in Zimbabwe’s media situation. "What you’re doing is great," he said. "I urge you not to move your eyes off this country in the next few months. It’s going to be a war zone. We need international friends to make noises, to lobby for us. To bring to attention that the situation in Zimbabwe is going to get out of hand. It would be sad if our friends forgot about us. Sometimes we feel very alone."
Sarah Chiumbu, Zimbabwe director of MISA, says Zimbabwe’s media are "in crisis." Until two years ago, she said, MISA seemed to be making progress in communicating with the then-ministry of post and telecommunications, predecessor of Moyo’s department. The turning point, she says, came with the arrest and subsequent torture of Mark Chavanduka and Ray Choto, editors of The Standard weekly newspaper, and with the strengthening of the opposition MDC party.
At that point, she says, the governing party became "really scared, and things started going downhill." Just 48 hours before the January bombing at The Daily News, she said, Jonathan Moyo had labeled that newspaper a threat to national security. Moyo has never condemned the bombing, she said. It was a question about the status of an investigation into the bombing that angered Moyo during his meeting with WPFC. "Has Scotland Yard ever solved the bombing of BBC?" he retorted.
In recent weeks, MISA has spearheaded an advertising campaign against the new broadcasting bill, attacking its constitutionality. MISA is also campaigning against the specter of the proposed "Freedom of Information" bill, attacking expected provisions for:
-- Licensing. Journalists with current credentials must surrender these and apply anew. Likewise, foreign correspondents must leave the country and apply for new credentials from home.
-- Hiring. Zimbabwe broadcast entities must hire Zimbabweans over foreigners.
-- Statutory media council to hear and punish complaints against news media -- and also against NGO publications.
"What we’re afraid of is that they’ll get rid of all the foreign correspondents" prior to the 2002 election, Chiumbu said. "They want to create a blackout." Zimbabwe’s journalists face great risks in providing fair coverage, she said. "If you’re BBC" and anger officials with your reports, "the worst thing that can happen is they will deport you. But if you are Zimbabwean, they can throw us in jail. … So there will be self-censorship."
Recently, Zimbabwe’s Roman Catholic clergy have been outspoken against increasing violence and the policies of the Mugabe government, taking out large advertisements in both the government and private media to convey their message.
"We need national dialogue," the ad reads in part. "We need to listen to what all groups in society have to say. All citizens must be allowed to speak freely what their concerns are, fathers and mothers, farmers and industrial workers, the young starting out in life and the old who have seen life and its troubles.
"This national dialogue, the media – both print and electronic – should help facilitate. To do this the media and media workers must be allowed to work in an atmosphere of freedom. There must not be any threats of physical violence against them."
The Rev. Oskar Wermter, spokesman for the Catholic Bishops Conference, told us that citizens of Zimbabwe tend to stay away from politics and political discussions, because they see these as dangerous areas. "Their attitude is ‘leave me alone,’ " he said. An indicator of the outlook is Zimbabwe’s very low voter turnout, generally only around 15% of the eligible population.
Wermter said the Mugabe regime has attempted, successfully, to identify his party with the nation of Zimbabwe in people’s minds. People now think of the government and the party as one, he said, and "anyone who disagrees with him is an enemy of the state."
Wermter said that Mugabe, himself a Catholic, "tries to use the Church." Happy to accept invitations to high-profile Church functions where he can stand up and speak without interruption, Mugabe nevertheless has refused to meet privately with the bishops to discuss their concerns. "He is definitely avoiding them. He cannot accept advice and is not prepared for general dialogue. That is the tragedy, because it is important that these things are pointed out, and taken seriously."
When a delegation of the International Bar Association expressed concerns about the rule of law in Zimbabwe, Wermter said, Mugabe became enraged and "lambasted them." Likewise, Information Minister Jonathan Moyo walked out of a meeting with the International Federation of Journalists, and came close to leaving his meeting with our press freedom group.
"They are becoming increasingly xenophobic,’’ Wermter said. Foreigners coming here and speaking out in itself angers them. This old system is not going to die without fighting back," he said. The bishops are worried, he said, that "violence could engulf the whole country in civil war."
III. Delegation Press Conference and Conclusions
The final appointment in our four-day mission to Zimbabwe was a press conference at the Meikles Hotel in Harare. Fifteen journalists came to the event, and asked very few questions.
The WPFC delegation released its preliminary findings:
Preliminary Findings of Press Freedom Delegation to Zimbabwe
Members of the Coordinating Committee of Press Freedom Organisations, meeting on Sunday, May 6, 2001 in Windhoek, Namibia, delegated representatives of the International Press Institute, the Media Workers Association of South Africa, the South African National Editors Forum, and the World Press Freedom Committee to go to Zimbabwe to look into the situation of press freedom.
The delegation arrived in Harare May 7. It has made the following preliminary findings:
From conversations with government officials, the delegation learned that the government is in the advanced stages of drafting a "Freedom of Information Act" that is in fact a press law to control the news media through such devices as licensing of journalists in the guise of accreditation and the establishment of a government-created and controlled two-tier (statutory and "voluntary") press council system.
The delegation has found that in recent months, journalists in Zimbabwe have come under severe pressure from the government, which has reacted harshly to the media's attempts to report on developments in the country.
Throughout this period, violence against journalists has increased; foreign journalists have been expelled, and the government has sought to preserve the monopoly of the Zimbabwean Broadcasting Corporation. Furthermore, government ministers have verbally abused journalists in public and used criminal defamation laws to silence critical reporting. Ministers have threatened to single out journalists individually as targets for attack.
In particular, the bombing at the offices and printing press of the Daily News this year and last and the subsequent failure to condemn these acts or institute a timely and full investigation has profound implications for the way in which the government views the media. The government has appeared to condone violence against journalists. This has created a climate of intimidation in the country.
The decision to rush new broadcasting legislation through Parliament has created a situation in which independent broadcast news stations appear to be precluded in advance of presidential elections next year.
Press freedom is supported by the rule of law; the erosion of the rule of law actively undermines this. Journalists have been victims of lawlessness.
The delegation calls on the government of Zimbabwe to:
We feel confident that this effort was indeed worthwhile. We went to Zimbabwe, demonstrating that the international community does care about the survival of democracy and freedom there. We gave our ears to all sides, seeking information and opinions as any good reporter would. We gave our encouragement and offers of help to journalists struggling to do their jobs in a very difficult environment. And we gave notice to those in government that we will monitor their actions closely in the coming months, and expect them to uphold the universal rights of Zimbabwe’s citizens, including its journalists, to "seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."
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