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Friday, 13 October, 2000, 17:16 GMT
Africa Media Watch
This week's Africa Media Watch looks at reactions to the Kenyan president's renewed threat to clamp down on broadcasters and the police raid on Zimbabwe's first independent radio station.
President Daniel arap Moi's latest threat to ban radio broadcasting in languages other than English or the national language Kiswahili has provoked a barrage of criticism.
An opinion piece in The Nation argued that as well as muzzling freedom of expression a ban on the vernacular would be in direct contradiction to pan-African efforts to rehabilitate African languages and culture in the post-colonial era.
It quoted a Unesco declaration saying that African languages are a key factor in political and cultural development and that "everything must be done to allow [them] to be used effectively within the democratic process".
Language, the article continued, is fundamental to human identity and its removal leaves a people's soul "crippled or destroyed".
"If implemented, the president's directive will achieve exactly that: destroying the soul and mental individuality of the majority of Kenyans," it said.
Rather than promoting "linguistic genocide", the author concluded, there should be more activity geared towards "preserving, developing and promoting Kenyan languages in line with Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights and the OAU Cultural Charter for Africa".
The Nation's news pages also devoted considerable space to criticism of the president's policy and to the reaction of Kameme FM's managing director, who said her station had deliberately avoided airing news and programmes of a political or divisive nature in the Kikuyu language.
Others, the paper reported, contended that the government wanted to give the state-owned Kenyan Broadcasting Corporation an unfair advantage over private broadcasters and that the proposed move would have "disastrous ramifications" for local and international "investor confidence".
State media policy has also raised hackles in Zimbabwe.
The forcible closure of Zimbabwe's first privately owned radio station, Capital Radio, was termed an "own goal" by the Zimbabwe Standard.
It also quoted a Harare lawyer as saying the government's attempts to maintain control of the broadcasting media ahead of the 2002 election would have "dire consequences for our law abiding society".
"What hope is there for democracy when government can't accept the simple fact that times are changing," the lawyer asked.
A leader in The Daily News, entitled "Radio station ruffles paranoid government", described the police raid on the station's studio as "totally uncalled for" and even "fascist".
"Yet at another level the hysterical and panic-stricken reaction is understandable," it continued.
"This is a government under siege, a government almost on its last legs, listening with mounting trepidation as the bell for its demise tolls louder and louder."
"The over-reaction to Capital Radio's challenge adds to the fat portfolio of the government's catalogue of crudities...
"The inevitable question... is: What are they trying to hide? The truth, of course. The government's control of the dissemination of information has always been designed to enable it to manipulate the truth," it said.
The paper argued that the country's new law on broadcasting was "a typical example of the government's determination to gag any independent media" and suggested that it was preparing for the 2002 presidential election.
"In using armed police the government is signalling that fear remains its greatest weapon against the democratic onslaught which began with the 'No' vote in [February's constitutional] referendum. If they were to succeed this country could be doomed."
South Africa's Mail and Guardian saw the armed raid on Capital Radio as one of a series of recent developments demonstrating that Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe "feels increasingly beseiged by an ungrateful nation".
It said that when Zimbabwe concluded "its bloody election campaign in June the country heaved a sigh of relief as a return to normality beckoned" but that now looked unlikely as "Mugabe's followers promise more of the same".
BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.
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