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Last Updated: Friday, 2 July 2004, 07:52 GMT 08:52 UK
Zimbabwe media loses its voice
By Alastair Leithead
BBC, Zimbabwe

Driving through Zimbabwe listening to the radio, or watching television in the evenings, all you see or hear is Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, the state controlled media.

Man putting Robert Mugabe posters on Daily News office
The Daily News, Zimbabwe's most popular paper, was closed down
Unless you have access to short wave radio or can afford satellite TV, which few people can, you only get one side of the story, and that is the government's.

Combine that with the way the independent press has been silenced and you realise the government is only telling the people what it wants them to hear.

There really is not a voice for opposition or criticism in the country.

'Fiction writing'

"Sometimes they just completely invent stories," said Andrew Moyse, who runs the Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe, an independent organisation based in the capital Harare.

"During the run-up to the presidential election they claimed for weeks that there were anthrax attacks against ruling party officials and they were all utterly fictitious.

"In fact it ceases to become journalism, it's just fiction writing - propaganda fiction writing."

Man reading the Zimbabwean newspaper The Herald
There is a now huge gap in information
Daily News Editor William Saidi
The project monitors the news content of the private and government-controlled media.

One of the workers said that the presenters of the news programmes hardly believe in what they are saying.

"They will tell you there is no choice as a journalist as there is just nowhere to work and times are hard - so in the end they just take their salary and lie," he said.

There are many state-controlled papers, but few independent voices left.

What used to be the biggest selling daily in the country - The Daily News - was closed down last year along with the Daily News on Sunday, under the government's controversial Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

Information gap

Its editor William Saidi believes the main aim of the act was to destroy his newspaper.

"The Daily News had overtaken the government's newspaper The Herald in circulation and was accused of influencing the elections in 2002, so as some form of punishment the government decided they would ban the Daily News.

"There are people who come up to me in the street and ask: 'When is our paper coming back' - there is a now huge gap in information," he added.

The Herald
- state-run daily
The Daily News
- banned daily
Sunday Mirror
- private weekly
Sunday Mail
- state-run weekly
The Financial Gazette
- private weekly
The Standard
- private weekly
Zimbabwe Standard
- private weekly
This gap makes life very difficult for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, which cannot get its message out to the people.

State media does not report its viewpoint or its criticism of the government.

"Freedom of expression is limited to a few weekly newspapers read by a tiny fraction of the population with perhaps circulation of 200,000," says John Robertson an independent economist based in the capital Harare.

"The government knows that it has the votes wrapped up because it can get to them with radio and television and it has absolutely prohibited any form of opposition in that territory."

Parliamentary elections are to be held next March - and unless changes are made soon, the media will be a weapon in the hands of the ruling party.

The BBC is banned from reporting inside Zimbabwe. Alastair Leithead is now back in South Africa after his clandestine visit.

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