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Wednesday, 28 February, 2001, 10:12 GMT
Zimbabwe: Can press freedom be preserved?
Press freedom appears to be under serious threat in Zimbabwe.
This week the BBC's correspondent Joseph Winter was threatened by a gang and given 24 hours to leave the country. A journalist from a South African newspaper was also expelled.
Before that, the presses of the independent Daily News were bombed. There have been concerns over alleged government harassment of the judiciary.
What is the Zimbabwe government up to? And what should the international community, and journalists in Zimbabwe, do to preserve freedoms of expression?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
There is a carefully orchestrated campaign by Mugabe to stifle dissent. Everything is in place except for one piece in the jigsaw - the press. It would appear that this will be completed pretty soon and then no one can oppose him.
This madness has to be stopped!
I enjoy all the contributions from people (some of whom have never been to Africa) who are always telling us how unfree we are. The deportation of one British journalist does not constitute an assault on freedom of the press. Joseph Winter is exaggerating when he says that he fled Zimbabwe. He was deported. Why would he flee if he had not committed a crime? The men who knocked at his door could well have been police effecting the deportation order before the fugitive disappeared into the crowds of Harare. This incident can therefore not be used to measure the level of press freedom (or lack of it) in Zimbabwe. The rest of the world should give us a chance to resolve our own problems, including land redistribution. This is a fundamental problem that has nothing to do with newspaper publishing or television news!
How is it that those who have written in support of Mugabe are resident in places other than Zimbabwe ?
Let's see then. If you speak out against the Government, you could get killed. If you are white you may lose a farm (if you are one of the 6% of whites who actually own a farm). If you print papers that are not state-run you could get blown up. If you are a journalist and report something incriminating you go to jail. I think a safe conclusion is that freedom of the press is not all it could be. I look forward to the day The Herald (a state-run mouthpiece) carries a front-page article on all Mugabe has stolen from the Zimbabweans.
A more important question would be to ask when the airwaves will be 'freed'. The expensive broadsheets of the independent media in Zimbabwe are largely out of the financial reach of the rural poor who continue to be subjected solely to the Mugabe regime's propaganda from local radio stations.
It's about time you leave Mugabe alone. Your mission is clear - to further your nation's foreign policy. This smacks at the face of "press freedom" and true journalism.
To Paulus Sigwali: A large proportion of the UK's press is owned by a non-European! In fact a huge share is owned by an Aussie but the press is allowed to criticise the Government and its policies as much as they want without the threat of violence.
I think the whole argument about free press
in Zimbabwe comes down to the fact that
like here in South Africa, the media in that country
has for too long been under the control of Europeans.
This is what I see as a problem in our region and it is only a matter
of time before resentment to such a status quo explodes
into hatred towards all Europeans. I can only pray for that
not to happen but let us in the meantime put things right while we
can. Allow Africans themselves to drive the vehicle of their continent!
Rehabeam Kamunoko, UK
We are under siege from a government gone mad which does not want a free press because the ruling party believes that it has a divine right to rule forever. Anyone who opposes this is an agent of white imperialists and is treated as a traitor. It is sad that African countries and the international community sit back and do nothing while Zimbabwe burns.
I recently spent a month in Zimbabwe and was very impressed with the quality of the local independent press that Mugabe is now attempting to muzzle.
The independent journalists of Zimbabwe are the true freedom fighters today. In the face of threats and intimidation, they continually stand up for the welfare of their countrymen. These freedom fighters will not be able to hop on the next plane out of the country, as Mr Winter was forced to do, if Mugabe and Moyo carry out their threat to strip passports of critical journalists.
To all those countries in the West and
their nationals making a noise about free press
in Zimbabwe: would you say your countries had
a free press if the BBC and CNN were
owned and controlled by non-Europeans?
Yes, freedom of the press is eroding in Zimbabwe. But what about the propaganda of white journalists that has undermined Africa in general? White rule in Southern Africa was not free either. In fact unjust behaviour by whites was hidden. There is misconduct on both sides, white media is unreasonable toward Africa!!
Michael de la Rue, Zimbabwe
I think African leaders should do more to stop Mugabe. As he self-destructs he may take the country with him, inevitably requiring belated but more costly intervention. These are the seeds that sow the kind of crisis being experienced in Sierra Leone and the DRC.
The international community needs firm action rather than expressions of concern. It's not just a question of press freedom but of any expression even by word of mouth. Mugabe has set up a complicated network of CIOs and no Zimbabwean can feel safe the world over. The ordinary man's suffering can never get worse since it's already at its worst. The only people who will feel the pinch are Mugabe and his thugs.
Mugabe has realised that he is losing his grip on his people, therefore he is seeking to make whites the scapegoats. If he thinks he can feed his people by grabbing white farmland, he is deluding himself.
Mugabe should have followed the example of Malawi and asked the blacks to buy out the whites and have a peaceful transition and equitable land reforms.
If Ian Smith had been supported over Rhodesia instead of a Marxist terrorist which Mugabe is, I doubt if the present Zimbabwe would be disappearing into the black hole it now is.
The weekend expulsions of mercurial correspondent, Joseph Winter and his South African colleague from Zimbabwe is one of Robert Mugabe's illogical decisions on his inevitable road to political perdition. Even in his madness, Mugabe should realise he has done himself more harm coming so close to the unjustifiable bombing of The Daily Mail.
At close to 80 what does he want after holding power for more than 20 years? Just like we survived the despotic Abacha in Nigeria, the Zimbabwean press will surely survive Mugabe. As for the melodious Winter, carry on bross, you have nothing to lose rather, the stakes remain higher for you. As an avid listener of the BBC I am earnestly waiting to hear your sweet voice which ironically terrorises tyrants again.
His actions are now all the more desperate, as his lack of popularity has got to the stage where the only thing that can keep him in power are the terror tactics that have been employed by many of the more infamous dictators of the last century including muzzling the independent press, detaining and intimidating the opposition etc. However history teaches us that such tactics are doomed to failure in the long term.
Who is providing Mugabe with the military might to suppress freedom of speech in Zimbabwe? Let the international community stop or drastically reduce the export of arms to Zimbabwe and I am very certain that freedom of expression and freedom of organisation will improve.
The interference of foreign powers like Britain in the internal affairs of Zimbabwe is more dangerous than Mugabe's dictatorship. There are many cases of dictatorship in Africa, but the threat towards white farmers seems to be the motive behind Britain's, particularly the BBC's, all-out propaganda war against Mugabe.
Freedom of speech is one thing
that does not exist in Zimbabwe
or in any other African country.
Mugabe should think what is good
for the country and the people
and not himself. He should
leave people to express their opinions
freely and choose someone they feel
is competent to lead them.
The recent squabble over the renewal of his work permit that led to the departure of the BBC correspondent, Joseph Winter, from Zimbabwe has once again demonstrated, among other things, African governments' lack of receptiveness to the press and the atmosphere of insecurity that characterises journalism in Africa. The international community should therefore ensure that journalists continue to speak out their minds without let or hindrance by imposing some form of sanction on countries that violate this fundamental human right.
John Carter, UK
It is essential that domestic and foreign
journalists continue to speak out the
truth as loud as possible, at any
The freedom of the press and of the
judiciary are necessary founding pillars
for freedom and democracy to be rebuilt
in that country.
No sacrifice is too great for freedom - a notion
some members of the Zanu command no doubt
held during UDI and the independence war.
Please, journalists domestic and foreign, put
as much copy onto the internet as possible,
where Mugabe cannot muzzle it. If only the
people of Zimbabwe could have access to the
internet and see for themselves.
Mugabe is aware that the pen is mightier than the sword. So his tact of intimidation is bound to fail because eventually the pen will triumph. Mugabe should learn from Museveni of Uganda how freedom of the press has improved democratic opportunities.
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