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Thursday, 20 December, 2001, 14:16 GMT
Mugabe seeks media monopoly
Senior editors of the independent Zimbabwe newspaper the Daily News inspect bomb damage
Daily News: Bombed after minister vowed to silence it
By BBC Monitoring's Suzanne Lidster

In the last year, Zimbabwe's embattled independent press has survived intimidation, arrests and even arson.

But human rights groups and journalists warn that the Zimbabwean Government plans to silence the independent media once and for all.

Information Minister Jonathan Moyo
Jonathan Moyo is the intellect behind the new media law

The government has introduced new legislation to ban critical reporting of President Mugabe and his ruling Zanu-PF party in the run-up to presidential elections next March.

The move follows expulsions of foreign news organizations and government accusations that independent and foreign journalists are in league with opposition groups.

In November, an anonymous government spokesman, quoted in the state-owned Herald newspaper, accused journalists who reported on an attack by ruling party militants against whites and opposition officials of aiding the "terrorist" opposition.

Propaganda blitz

As part of its re-election strategy, Zanu-PF is pushing for a 24-hour news radio station, a TV station, eight provincial newspapers and a news agency under a new government media house called New Ziana.

Earlier this year, the government passed legislation effectively banning independent radio stations.

Zimbabwe Standard editor, Mark Chavunduka
Editor Mark Chavunduka was tortured by the army in 1999

Rural areas have been particularly affected, as radio is the main medium for receiving news there.

To fill this vacuum, a new radio station started broadcasting to Zimbabwe via short-wave and the Internet on 19 December.

Broadcasting each evening in English, SW Radio Africa, says it is independent of any political parties and will provide unbiased news and current affairs programmes.

Until now, the only local airtime available to Mugabe's election rival Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), is on Voice of the People, which broadcasts on short-wave from the island of Madagascar.

But most people in rural areas still rely on FM and medium-wave radios and television, where the state retains a monopoly.

Punitive measures

Proposed regulations will place further restrictions on independent journalists.

The Public Order and Security Bill, which bans political rallies and bars newspapers from publishing articles criticizing the president, has also been put to parliament.

Another law banning foreign journalists from working in Zimbabwe is expected to be passed soon.

Daily News and Herald billboards
The Daily News outsells The Herald

The proposed Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Bill disqualifies foreigners from working as journalists, even for foreign media.

In addition to being Zimbabwean citizens, journalists must also hold a journalism degree to qualify for a licence. A new government-appointed media commission will be responsible for granting licences to journalists and supervising the media industry.

The bill makes it a crime for journalists to write for other publications unless they are registered as freelance journalists. Anyone writing unauthorised reports on cabinet meetings will be prosecuted.

Those found guilty of violating the bill will have to pay a fine of up to 100,000 Zimbabwe dollars ($1,875) or be sentenced to two years' imprisonment.

Silencing dissent

Zimbabwe Union of Journalists secretary-general Basildon Peta warns that the bill is "the final nail in the coffin of the media".

This year, the journalists' union recorded more than 40 cases of independent reporters being arrested by police or attacked by ruling Zanu-PF militants. Some had reportedly been tortured.

Daily News editor, Geoff Nyarota
Nyarota Has been arrested twice this year

Zimbabwe's most popular newspaper, the independent Daily News, has been the main target.

Its printing press was destroyed in a bomb attack in January, although it continues to publish.

Editor Geoff Nyarota was arrested twice, but charges were quickly dropped.

The authorities expelled three foreign correspondents, and in July barred BBC reporters from the country.

The US Congress has recently passed the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Bill which offers financial incentives to Zimbabwe to allow fair elections and support a free and independent press.

Mr Mugabe reacted by calling the bill "repugnant, provocative, and indeed a gross violation of international law".

See also:

29 Jan 01 | Africa
Daily News hits the streets
24 Feb 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
How I left Zimbabwe
01 Aug 00 | Africa
Zimbabwe 'murder plot' fails
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