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Repressive media laws
Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ)
Extracted from Weekly Media Update 2007-15
Monday April 16th 2007 - Sunday April 22nd 2007

THE underlying intentions of the authorities' repressive media laws has been clearly underlined by the paucity of credible and reliable information, which has left the public in the dark on daily events affecting their lives. For instance, since the enactment of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) in 2002, four private newspapers, including the then widest circulating Daily News, have been closed under the draconian law. This has left the public at the mercy of the government-controlled newspapers, especially the two dailies, The Herald and Chronicle, whose dominance of the Print media landscape is unchallenged.

Similarly, the Broadcasting Services Act has been used to stifle the establishment of private radio and television stations thereby giving the government-run ZBC its continuing illegal monopoly of the airwaves. But the dominance of the government media has not translated into adequate provision of information to the public. Instead, they are basically conduits of official propaganda aimed at enhancing the public image of government and the ruling party at the expense of the truth about the actual causes for the country's crisis and any alternative beliefs. Issues that reflect badly on government are simply suppressed. As a result, most people who rely on these media are little wiser about the country's deteriorating socio-economic and political crises beyond their own experiences and the ancient practice of story-telling.

Although the three locally based weeklies, The Financial Gazette, Zimbabwe Independent and The Standard, as well as the UK-based Zimbabwean, have tried to fill the information gap, they have not been able to adequately counter the daily propaganda peddled by the government media due to their limited frequency.

Besides, except for The Zimbabwean, only the privileged few can afford the exorbitant costs of the weeklies. This leaves the private radio stations and the online agencies as the only daily sources of alternative news fulfilling the public's information needs.

However, like the private weeklies, these are niche market sources of information mostly accessible to the elite.

Therefore, it is only a fraction of the Zimbabwean population that has any useful, up-to-date information about the many aspects to the country's worsening crisis.

For instance, this week the independent electronic media carried 32 stories on the continuing arrests, abduction and beatings of the opposition and WOZA activists and university student leaders. Of these, eight recorded new incidents while the remainder were either follow-up reports on previous cases of rights abuses or general stories on the country's deteriorating human rights record. While the private weeklies carried four incidents in their nine stories on rights violations, the dominant government media completely censored the abuses thereby giving the public a sanitized picture of the situation on the ground.

It is in this context that MMPZ calls for the urgent repeal of media laws that so severely restrict the practice of journalism and news dissemination in order to allow alternative sources of information to develop that would adequately inform the public and thereby promote citizens' full participation in the governance of the country.

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