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Minister threatens to close private newspapers
September 13, 2011

The Minister of Media, Information and Publicity Webster Shamu has warned foreign and private media organisations that the government will withdraw their licences if they continue abusing their journalistic privileges by denigrating and vilifying the country's leadership.

Shamu accused the foreign and private media of denigrating President Robert Mugabe and the First Family for unjustifiable reasons premised on falsehoods. He said the country would use its laws to deal with the foreign and private media. He said Britain has more than 50 media laws that gagged the media but nobody made a fuss about it.

"Of late, these media houses and pirate radio stations have intensified their vitriolic attacks and the use of hate language on the person of His Excellency, the President and the party (Zanu PF) in a well calculated move aimed at influencing the results of the forthcoming elections.

"In other words, the execution of the regime change agenda has been intensified. We cannot allow the denigration of the highest office in the land, " he said.

MISA-Zimbabwe position

While MISA-Zimbabwe does not condone irresponsible and unethical journalism, the Minister's threats are of great concern as they come on the backdrop of similar warnings against foreign newspapers by Godfrey Majonga, the chairperson of the statutory Zimbabwe Media Commission.

Majonga said foreign newspapers circulating in Zimbabwe risked being banned if they fail to register with the ZMC in terms of the draconian Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA). South African newspapers, the Mail and Guardian and Sunday Times are among some of the foreign newspapers circulating in Zimbabwe.

These recent developments smack of machinations to intimidate or silence the private media from shining the spotlight on the conduct of public figures which goes against the dictates of transparency and accountability as should be the case in an open and free society.

Claims by the Minister that the United Kingdom has a plethora of media laws designed to gag the press do not justify the existence or resort to similar draconian laws in a free and independent Zimbabwe.

The minister's threats make a strong case on the urgent need for constitutional provisions that explicitly guarantee media freedom and citizens' right to access to information. Such provisions will render draconian media laws such as AIPPA and the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, among others, unconstitutional.

While journalists should at all times strive for balance, fairness and respect for citizens' right to privacy, MISA-Zimbabwe also expects the Minister to forcefully defend media freedom by condemning and demanding the arrest of the culprits who recently assaulted journalists working for the private media at Parliament Building in Harare.

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