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on the press in 2006: Zimbabwe
to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
February 05, 2007
daily The Herald marked President Robert Mugabe’s 82nd birthday
in February with a 16-page supplement of photos and "congratulatory
messages from government departments." Such hagiographic and
pro-government propaganda dominates the media landscape in Zimbabwe,
where Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party has waged a crackdown on the private
press though a series of highly restrictive media laws. Having used
these laws to close several of the country’s private newspapers,
the government turned its focus to the broadcast sector, jamming
overseas radio signals and shutting a local news production company
whose reports were transmitted into Zimbabwe via shortwave. They
had been an important means of information in a country where radio
and television stations are government-owned.
of the People (VOP), a local company that produced news and
commentary from an office in Harare, was shut down in a government
raid in December 2005. According to local sources, authorities charged
three staff members, the company’s director, and six members of
the board of directors under the Broadcasting
Services Act, which prohibits the possession or use of broadcasting
equipment without a license. VOP management said that the company
did not own or operate such equipment; staffers produced programs
that were then transmitted via shortwave from overseas.
In a victory
for the press, a court in Harare threw out the VOP case in September,
calling the prosecution a "circus" after a long series
of government delays. In a number of press-related decisions over
the past four years, Zimbabwean trial courts have demonstrated independence
from the executive branch and turned back efforts to enforce some
the country’s most arbitrary media restrictions.
Services Act requires that broadcast media obtain a license, but
the government has not issued licenses to any private outlets since
the law’s inception in 2001. In January, the Ministry of Information
announced it would amend the act to improve distribution of licenses
to private broadcasters. Instead of doing so, however, the government
sought to restrict the transmission of overseas news broadcasts
into Zimbabwe via medium-wave and shortwave. A report in The
Herald declared that broadcasters such as the U.S. government-funded
broadcaster Voice of America (VOA) and the London-based SW Radio
Africa had mounted "a one-sided campaign against Zimbabwe and
In June, the
VOA said the medium-wave transmission of its popular Studio 7 service,
which had been on the air in Zimbabwe for 90 minutes each weekday,
was being blocked in Harare.
SW Radio Africa,
a station run by exiled Zimbabwean journalists, also said its medium-wave
broadcasts were blocked in Harare starting in June. The station
added a medium-wave frequency in 2005 to counteract the jamming
of its shortwave broadcasts, which began during the March 2005 parliamentary
continued to tighten laws criminalizing free expression, increasing
in March the fines under the Public Order and Security Act for "presidential
insult" and "communicating falsehoods." In May, ZANU-PF
introduced a bill in a parliamentary committee that would empower
the government to intercept electronic communications on national
security grounds. Local lawyers said the bill was so vaguely worded
that it could be used broadly against journalists, political opponents,
and human rights activists. Zimbabwe’s deputy minister of information
and publicity, Bright Matonga, told the United Nations news agency
IRIN that the pending measure was "born out of realization
that the Internet has been used to destroy the image of Zimbabwe
and that this was made possible by the lack of regulation in cyber-communication."
The most notorious
media law is the Access
to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, known as AIPPA,
which requires all journalists and media outlets to register with
the government-controlled Media and Information Commission (MIC).
The law has been used to silence several local publications, including
the Daily News, the country’s only independent daily, and
the Daily News on Sunday in 2003. Zimbabwe’s High Court ruled in
February that the MIC must reconsider its July 2005 decision to
deny registration to the banned papers. But by year’s end, the MIC
had yet to rule on the case.
to official harassment, local journalists in Zimbabwe face the daily
hardship of scraping together a living amid the country’s economic
collapse. Zimbabwe’s inflation rate, the highest in the world, is
threatening the financial survival of the country’s remaining private
papers, with soaring printing costs and a diminished spending capacity
among the population.
regularly accuses unemployed journalists of working "illegally"
for foreign news outlets, a charge carrying up to two years in prison
under AIPPA. In January, police in the eastern town of Mutare detained
a former Daily News journalist, Sidney Saize, for three days;
he was accused of working illegally for the VOA and filing a "false"
story alleging that ZANU-PF members had beaten local teachers. While
Saize was released from custody without charges being filed in this
case, he faced the same charge of violating AIPPA in connection
with his work for the Daily News. Dozens of former journalists for
the paper remained in a similar legal limbo.
Soon after Saize’s
arrest, State Security Minister Didymus Mutasa was quoted in the
government-owned Manica Post as threatening journalists he said
were "driven by the love for United States dollars and British
pounds, which they are paid by foreign media houses to peddle lies."
He added: "They should be warned that the net will soon close
in on all those involved in these illegal activities."
AIPPA also makes
it illegal for foreign correspondents to reside full-time in Zimbabwe,
and it serves to restrict the entry of foreign journalists. In April,
police in the southwestern border town of Plumtree arrested two
journalists from BTV, the state broadcaster of neighboring Botswana.
Reporter Beauty Mokoba and cameraman Koketso Seofela were accused
of practicing journalism without a license and violating Zimbabwean
immigration law. They had traveled to the region to report on an
outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in local livestock and the possible
role of cross-border cattle rustling in driving the epidemic, according
to BTV management. The journalists pleaded not guilty to the charges.
On November 7, a Plumtree court convicted both journalists and fined
each of them 5,000 Zimbabwean dollars (US$20).
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