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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 September, 2003, 08:33 GMT 09:33 UK
'No alternative voice for Zimbabwe'
The last remaining independent daily newspaper in Zimbabwe, the Daily News, is fighting for its survival after a court ordered its closure for allegedly contravening a new, stringent press law.

Guards outside the Daily News offices
The offices of the newspaper have been raided twice by police
Under the law, all media organisations and journalists have to register with a state media commission. The Daily News said the law was designed to stifle what is left of a free press and refused to apply for accreditation.

The Supreme Court ruled ordered its immediate closure.

In an attempt to save the paper, the owners have now decided to register with the media commission. They are also seeking an urgent ruling from the High Court to allow the paper to continue publishing while its application is being considered.

But staff at the newspaper have little optimism that The Daily News will be back on the news-stands soon.

"Sad development"

"The mood is very gloomy, morale at the newspapers is very low, and most of the journalists are staying at home," the newspaper's deputy features editor Simba Chabarika told BBC News Online by phone from Zimbabwe.

"We think the government will take a very tough stance against the paper. The Daily News and the government have never been good bedfellows because of its criticism of Mugabe's rule. We are seen as a threat.

The Daily News has been critical of Mugabe's rule
Robert Mugabe introduced new media laws after his re-election in 2002
"We think it is unlikely that the government will allow the newspaper to begin operating again, certainly not in the short term. Perhaps after a long time we may be allowed to re-open, but we are not optimistic. It is a very sad development for the country's independent journalism."

The state controls the country's two other daily papers and the single television and radio broadcast station.

The paper's chief executive Sam Nkomo told the BBC that if his paper is shut down permanently the only alternative press in Zimbabwe is government controlled.

"They are merely trying to get us out of the way because once we are out of the way on a daily basis there's no alternative voice. The only paper that would be available is the government paper, the Herald," he said.

The Daily News and its sister paper, the Sunday News, employ about 30 journalists, who are now worried that the paper will not be able to afford to pay their salaries or their medical aid contributions.

Police have raided the paper's offices and removed computers, making it difficult for staff to be paid. Also, the paper will not be able to afford to pay those salaries if it continues not to publish.

"There is a lot of anxiety," says Mr Chabarika. "We all have rent and bills to pay and we don't know what the future will bring."

Mr Chabarika says that not all journalists agreed with the decision by executives not to register the newspaper under the stringent Access to Information Act, which was introduced as part of a package of media laws after President Robert Mugabe's re-election in 2002.

"Initially, meetings were held between the Daily News and other news organisations. The decision was made for the Daily News not to register with the government, but it was not a unanimous decision. Some journalists agreed that it was right to defy the government but others argued that the newspaper should register, but under protest.

"Nobody thought that it would come to this, that the government would try to close the paper. If this had been foreseen, I'm sure no one would have backed the decision."




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