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Monday, 6 May, 2002, 17:06 GMT 18:06 UK
Zimbabwe's reporters stand firm
Bombed Daily News printing press
The Daily News printing press was bombed in 2001
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By the BBC's Lewis Machipisa
Harare
line

It is a risky business reporting the news in Zimbabwe these days.

Journalists run a gauntlet of arrests, beatings and threats.


A civilised democracy cannot enact laws that single out the media for special punishment

Media Monitoring Project
A case in point is the recent arrest of three journalists - two from the privately-owned Daily News and one from Britain's Guardian newspaper.

Their crime was trusting an old man who claimed that his wife had been beheaded by ruling party supporters in front of his two daughters - and reporting it as fact.

But investigations by the Daily News revealed that the old man was a super conman.

Example

Unfortunately, the paper had already published the story which, finding a life of its own, also grabbed the headlines in the Western press.

A front-page apology to Zanu-PF by the Daily News failed to save reporters Lloyd Mudiwa and Collin Chiwanza from being arrested last week. A day later, the Guardian's correspondent, Andrew Meldrum, was picked up at his home.

President Robert Mugabe
Mugabe signed the new media law in March

"The incident should stand as a salutary example to all journalists and media organisations that they carry the burden of an exceptional public responsibility to report accurately and fairly as messengers of society," said the Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe (MMPZ).

"MMPZ, however, condemns the repressive media laws under which three journalists perceived to have been responsible for writing and perpetuating the story have now been arrested, charged and detained.

"A civilised democracy cannot enact laws that single out media workers for special punishment, since this represents an unconstitutional curtailment of an individual's fundamental right to freedom of expression - even if what is said is false."

Government boycott

But now, thanks to the conman, Zimbabwe's Information Minister Jonathan Moyo, has found good reason to hound journalists.

A paper vendor in Harare
The independent press is feeling pressured

Following the beheading story, Mr Moyo, the man behind the new media law, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, has ordered all government departments to stop advertising in the Daily News.

Mr Moyo also warned of sterner action against journalists writing "lies".

The media law requires journalists and newspapers to get an annually renewable "licence", at the discretion of the ministry.

Correspondents also face up to two year's jail for writing "lies".

I feel the law is designed to silence independent voices more effectively than the bombs which last year blew up printing presses of the private Daily News.

Arrests

Deeply worrying is that journalists deemed to be writing stories critical of President Mugabe will lose their licences or be sent to jail.


I personally have been threatened on several occasions. But who has not?

Although charges against Lloyd Mudiwa, Collin Chiwanza and Andrew Meldrum have been dropped, the episode has reinforced the fears of many journalists working in Zimbabwe.

Over the past month, seven other reporters have been picked up by police.

Peta Thornycroft a correspondent for the London-based Daily Telegraph was charged under the law and held for days.

Dumisani Muleya and Iden Wetherall of the weekly Zimbabwe Independent have also found themselves on the wrong side of the new media law.

Undaunted

Despite the threats against them, journalists here remain resolved to tell it like it is.

While accepting that they ought to check their sources more carefully, they say the arrests will not deter them from exposing the wrongs and excesses of the government.

Andrew Meldrum and Lloyd Mudiwa on the day of their release
Meldrum and Mudiwa have been released

I personally have been threatened on several occasions. But who has not?

No-one appears to be safe - either in the private or the state-run media.

The other day, a state television crew pleaded to be spared as soldiers pounced on cameramen covering a pro-democracy march.

But to no avail.

Taking a cue from more experienced colleagues, I watched the demonstration from a distance.

Mutual help

Some of my journalist friends have had to flee the country. One left after an attack by soldiers.

For those remaining behind, life and our work must go on.

Even if some officials won't speak to me because I report for the BBC.

Colin Chiwanza
Chiwanza too spent three days in jail

I also feel sorry for some of my colleagues who work for the state-controlled media.

It can't be easy for them, passing on what many listeners and readers see as lies.

But as journalists, we try to help each other as much as possible.

I have had to cover some assignments under the cover and protection of state media journalists.

But I have often returned the favour and protected them from pro-opposition supporters.

Supporters of the ruling party seem to trust only journalists from the government media while the opposition supporters will only talk to the independent press.

But I will continue to write and report.

Hopefully this won't deny me a licence to practice as a journalist in my country.

See also:

02 May 02 | Africa
Zimbabwe court frees journalists
02 May 02 | Africa
Zimbabwe arrests condemned
15 Apr 02 | Africa
Zimbabwe journalist arrested
31 Mar 02 | Africa
Zimbabwe releases journalist
15 Mar 02 | Africa
Zimbabwe enacts media curbs
19 Feb 02 | Africa
Journalist urges more pressure
09 Nov 01 | Africa
Zimbabwe editor walks free
01 Feb 02 | Africa
Media rounds on Zimbabwe law
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