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of hope and resignation about return of independent press
February 17, 2010
Fed up with
years of inactivity because of forced closures and still waiting
for their newspapers to be given licences to start working again,
Zimbabwe's independent media journalists are drifting in limbo,
between hope and resignation, Reporters Without Borders found during
a fact-finding visit to Harare from 20 to 23 March, its first trip
to Zimbabwe after years of being denied visas.
press has endured enough repression in recent years," Reporters
Without Borders said, pointing out that Zimbabwe is ranked 136th
out of 175 countries in its press freedom index. "It is time
for the government of national unity to demonstrate its will to
reform press legislation and liberate the country's media.
There have been enough statements. We urge the Zimbabwe Media Council
to quickly grant licences to the media that request them."
During the visit to Harare,
the head of the Reporters Without Borders Africa desk met Jameson
Timba, who is the deputy minister of media and information and an
adviser to the prime minister, human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa,
photojournalist Shadreck Anderson Manyere and members of the management
and staff of The Zimbabwe Independent, The Standard, NewsDay, The
Financial Gazette and the defunct Daily News.
Borders also met a foreign press correspondent, a state media representative,
and representatives of the Media
Institute for Southern Africa, the Zimbabwean Chapter (Misa-Zimbabwe),
Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ), Zimbabwe Journalists for Human Rights
(ZJHR) and Zimbabwe
Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR). Reporters Without Borders regrets
being unable to meet the head of the Zimbabwe Media Council (ZMC),
who did not want to give an interview.
The Zimbabwean press
was still one of the most vigorous in Africa at the start of the
past decade. The public read the newspapers avidly every day, especially
The Daily News. Privately-owned and run by experienced journalists,
it was known for its independence and its serious, reliable reporting.
"It was a vibrant newspaper and when it came on the market,
it was a sell-out almost every day," said Annie Musemburi-Musodza,
who used to be former editor Geoffrey Nyarota's assistant.
"It sold more copies than The Herald, the state-owned daily."
Robert Mugabe, who has been on the Reporters Without Borders list
of "Predators of Press Freedom" for years, had the Access
to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) passed
in 2002. It banned foreign investment in Zimbabwe's media
with the sole aim of killing off The Daily News, one of whose shareholders
was Scottish. It was followed on 6 August 2007 by the
Interception of Communications Act, which made it easier for
the political and police apparatus to give free rein to its paranoia
by allowing the authorities to monitor email messages and mobile
phone calls without having to seek court permission.
This repressive legislation,
enabling close surveillance of journalists and constant control
of the press, is one of the biggest obstacles to media development
in Zimbabwe, an obstacle that the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ)
is determined to combat. By means of its Media Law Reform Project,
this NGO coalition is trying to get parliamentarians to completely
overhaul the press laws. It also wants to get "freedom of
the media" added to freedom of information in the Zimbabwean
When Prime Minister Morgan
Tsvangirai reiterated his government's priorities at the end
of March, the presentation of a Freedom of Information Bill (to
replace the AIPPA) and a Media Practitioners Bill to parliament
were mentioned prominently. The 21 March issue of The Standard,
an independent weekly, said the government hoped to complete these
reforms by the end of the year.
Media Council and return of independent press
The Zimbabwe Media Council
(ZMC), which has replaced the Media and Information Commission (MIC),
is supposed to issue newspapers with licences and thereby open the
way for the independent press to re-emerge. The promise has hung
in the air for months without materialising. "Let's be clear
about this," said lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa. "The ZMC is
there to save the media. It should be doing its job"
Created in 2009, the
ZMC did not officially get under way until its inaugural meeting
on 18 March 2010. It was only after months of prevarication and
negotiations between Zanu-PF, President Mugabe's party, and
the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Prime Minister Tsvangirai's
party, that the ZMC's nine commissioners were named. They
are Godfrey Majonga (chairman), Nqobile Nyathi (deputy chairperson),
Chris Mutsvangwa, Matthew Takaona, Chris Mhike, Henry Muradzikwa,
Lawton Hikwa, Miriam Madziwa and Millicent Mombeshora.
They are the ones whose
job it is to receive and examine the applications submitted by news
media. At a meeting with the editors of all of Zimbabwe's
newspapers at the start of March, no less a person than the president
asked the ZMC to begin to work, fulfil its role and create a space
for the media. The prime minister, for his part, insisted that nothing
is tying the hands of the ZMC's commissioners. Nonetheless,
nothing is happening and it looks as though the ZMC is playing for
Reporters Without Borders
hoped to meet with the ZMC's chairman, Godfrey Majonga, during
its visit. Several requests for an interview were made, but without
success. At first, Majonga insisted that he had nothing to add to
what was said at the 18 March inaugural meeting. Then he said he
could not give an interview on his own as the ZMC was a collective
commission. "He has held the position for only seven days,"
the deputy media and information minister, Timba, said. "Give
him a bit of time."
Jethro Goko, the head
of Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ), the company that owns
The Daily News and The Daily News on Sunday, pointed out that it
obtained favourable high court ruling in 2006. "We are ready,"
he said. "We are just waiting for the ZMC to give us our licence
but we will not reapply because a ruling confirmed four years ago
shows we have everything in order. The ANZ does not have a lot of
resources but we are dedicated to providing the Zimbabwean people
with credible quality newspapers."
daily, NewsDay, decided not to wait for its licence in order to
start working. When the newspaper threatened to begin publishing
without a licence in 2009, the permanent secretary in the Ministry
of media and information, George Charamba, warned that its journalists
would be arrested. NewsDay has gone ahead and hired journalists,
who are currently producing a four-page insert that is distributed
inside the weeklies The Standard and The Zimbabwe Independent.
control of state media, persecution of independent media
Meanwhile, until the
ZMC starts issuing licences, the media landscape continues to be
dormant and subject to heavy government control.
In the state-owned media,
for example, the hands of the journalists are tied by their editors,
who take their orders from the government. Amid a constant fear
of unfair dismissal, self-censorship is widespread. Six journalists
employed by the state-owned Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC)
were fired in 2008 for allegedly not giving President Mugabe enough
coverage during the election campaign.
took radio presenter Godfrey Gweje off the air in March 2010 for
making "subversive political comments" after he criticised
the low pay (189 US dollars a month) received by civil servants,
then on strike for better pay. The previous week, Wellington Toni
was fired as the Sunday News sports editor for referring on a website
to corrupt practices in the regional state-owned weekly The Chronicle.
"We cannot express
our opinions," a state media representative told Reporters
Without Borders on condition of anonymity. "We are men, with
weaknesses, and we are afraid."
and those working for the privately-owned weeklies are often harassed
or threatened. Constantine Chimakure and Vincent Kahiya of the Zimbabwe
Independent, for example were arrested together in May 2009 and
were subsequently the target of judicial proceedings for a year
before charges were finally dropped.
Stanley Gama was summoned to Harare central police station on 30
March, just two days after communication minister Webster Shamu
said the harassment of journalists should stop, and was questioned
by Chief Superintendent Chrispen Makedenge about his sources for
a story in the Zimbabwe edition of South Africa's Sunday Times
about a cabinet minister's alleged corrupt practices.
Two months before that,
on 15 January, Makedenge made a death threat against freelance journalist
Stanley Kwenda over one of his articles for the privately-owned
newspaper The Zimbabwean. Makedenge, who has been implicated in
the abduction of journalists and MDC members, told Kwenda: "You
are not going to last this weekend." Kwenda fled the country.
Nick Maunze, an official
in the Zimbabwean government's Central Intelligence Organisation
(CIO), publicly threatened Godfrey Mutimba, The Standard's
correspondent in the south-eastern province of Masvingo, in March.
"You must be careful young man, very, very careful because
I will reduce you to nothing," he told Mutimba. "I do
not care what your papers write about me; they are useless and will
not change anything. What I need to tell you and your other reporters
is that you should know that I have dealt with even bigger fish
which had thick heads."
Referring to opposition
activist Job Sikhala, Maunze added: "I am the one who forced
Sikhala to drink urine when he was arrested and it is not hard for
me at all to deal with an even smaller fish and useless reporters
like you. What will you do to me?"
These are just a few
examples of the threats and harassment to which Zimbabwean journalists
are routinely subjected.
news photographer Shadreck Anderson Manyere
Kidnapped in December
2008, freelance news photographer Shadreck Anderson Manyere, was
subjected to an ordeal comparable to what was inflicted on leading
journalist and human rights activist Jestina Mukoko during his next
four months in detention. Charged with banditry, sabotage and terrorism,
he was held in appalling conditions, brutally interrogated and tortured.
In the year since his
release on 18 April 2009, he has had to report to a police station
in the capital under pain of being arrested again. This is a major
handicap for a freelancer as it means he cannot accept a job in
At the same
time, Manyere is hounded whenever he works in the capital. He was
arrested while covering a demonstration by members of Women
of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) on 18 January 2010 and then released
without charge. On 24 February, he was forcManyere told Reporters
Without Borders: "Whenever I cover a demonstration or an event,
the police ask me: 'Are you working for The Herald or for
ZBC?' As soon as I reply that I am a freelancer, they try
to confiscate my camera and they often take me to a police station."
"They are after
him, that's obvious," lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa said. "They
want to push him to the limit and force him to give up his profession."
years of silence about cameraman Edward Chikomba's death
On 23 March,
the last day of Reporters Without Borders' visit, the police
raided a Harare art gallery and removed more than 60 photos that
had been put on display by the human rights group ZimRights.
Most of the photos were taken in the run-up to the 2008 elections
and showed the use of violence to disperse demonstrations. They
also showed the current prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, with
his face swollen from being beaten while in detention.
Freelance cameraman Edward
Chikomba, a former employee of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation
(ZBC), was one of the people who took the photos of Tsvangirai.
He was found dead in Darwendale (60 km west of Harare) on 31 March
2007, two days after being kidnapped by four men suspected of being
intelligence officials. They went to his home in Glen View, a high
density suburb of Harare, and forced him to get into their four-wheel-drive
vehicle at gunpoint.
Chikomba was accused
of selling his footage of Tsvangirai to foreign news media. Since
leaving the production team of "Vision 30," broadcast
by ZBC until 2001, Chikomba had been making documentaries independently
for individuals or news media.
According to his wife,
who witnessed his abduction, Chikomba knew he was in danger. "I
am dead," he said, when he saw the four men arrive outside
No proper, independent
investigation has ever been carried out into his death.
Given the current state
of the Zimbabwean media and the urgent need to restore press freedom,
Reporters Without Borders makes the following recommendations:
Zimbabwean government: Put a stop to the frequent police
violence against journalists, quickly foster a climate more favourable
to free expression for privately-owned independent newspapers, and
open up broadcasting, currently monopolised by ZBC. The two parties,
Zanu-PF and MDC, must work in a more determined and concerted fashion.
It is time to pass from words to action.
To the Zimbabwe Media
Council: Immediately issue licences to newspapers that request them
and conduct itself in a more transparent manner by ceasing to be
uncommunicative about its activities, which are not known to the
To the international
community (SADC, African Union, European Union, UN and bilateral
aid agencies): Put more pressure on Zimbabwe to ensure that opening
up the media sector is one of the reform timetable's priorities.
To South African President Jacob Zuma (as the person mandated by
the SADC to ensure full implementation of the Global Political Agreement,
a power-sharing agreement between Zanu-PF and MDC): Be firmer with
President Mugabe and Zanu-PF. By not cooperating fully with the
MDC, President Mugabe and his party are the source of several obstacles
to implementation of the power-sharing agreement and are thereby
preventing Zimbabwe from advancing with determination down the road
journalists: Try to avoid the very marked polarisation
of political life by not taking a pro-Zanu-PF or pro-MDC position
and by respecting the principles of neutrality and objectivity in
order to provide the Zimbabwean people with better reporting.
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