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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.

Your reaction

Britain has no one to blame but herself

Chidomo, Canada
The international community put pressure on Rhodesia to change government and give it to the present regime. These individuals are robbing the country of everything it is worth, while the average person gets thrown into poverty. So Britain has no one to blame but herself for allowing a dictator to ruin yet another African country
Chidomo, Canada

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!
Munya, South Africa

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!
Fadzai Mafoti, Zimbabwe

Discriminating against one minority scares off future investors and tourists

Frank, Peru
When a leader wants to take action but has no support in doing it either by Congress or the people, this leader will censor the press. It is true that the European powers that colonised Africa have done a lot of harm before and after independence. I agree with land reform that will give black Africans the right to more land. However, I disagree on the methods used. Stealing white farmers' land and giving it to black farmers who have not been instructed with knowledge on how to administer a farm is dangerous economically. And you cannot make white Africans suffer just because colonial powers in the past harmed the native people and land. Discriminating against one minority scares off future investors and tourists.
Frank, Peru

How is it that those who have written in support of Mugabe are resident in places other than Zimbabwe ?
Roy, 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.
Ian, Zimbabwe

There is blame on both sides

Ethan, UK
I left Zimbabwe last year, to travel. Anyone who has lived in or is still living in that country knows the issues. Being a "white African" (for those who are confused right now, I mean my skin is white, but I was born in Zimbabwe as were my parents). I was a minority at the schools I attended but have many black friends. To me the issue is not black or white but the racial issue is being played to the fullest. There is blame on both sides, there is no doubt. But if you read any independent newspaper in Zimbabwe, only a very few journalists are white, so how can it be racist that the press is telling it how it is?
Ethan, UK

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.
S. Griffiths, Zimbabwean in the UK

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.
Ike, Nigeria

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.
Paul, UK

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!
Phillip Jordaan, South Africa

Mugabe is for Africa and Britain is for Europe!

Rehabeam Kamunoko, UK
Press freedom, human rights and democracy are rights and values introduced to Zimbabwe by Zanu-PF and not Britain. Therefore, President Mugabe is more civilised than British leaders who went the world over brutalising other people over their resources. So give us a break, Mugabe is for Africa and Britain is for Europe!
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.
John Simba, Zimbabwe

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.
Thomas Scott, USA

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?
Paulus Sigwali, Namibia

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!!
Simagaliso Moyo, USA

Africa will win its freedom, but not with gun in hand

Michael de la Rue, Zimbabwe
The idea of Mugabe as a freedom fighter is inflated. Sending thousands of armed men against a terrified white minority is not a battle of freedom. Freedom and peace are won on the streets. Africa is still suffering from those 'freedom struggles' sponsored by the expansionist USSR. To those who doubt that whole episode was a tale of Soviet brutality, you can look at how Mugabe dealt with a guerrilla threat from the Matabele soon after the War. Such brutality would never have been dreamed of by Ian Smith, even in the most desperate days. Africa will win its freedom, but not with gun in hand. The tragedy is that war has found its new father. When the diamonds are gone Africa will finally be peaceful.
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.
Beatus, Nigeria

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.
Kundai Murenah, Zimbabwe

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.
M. Raghav, Engkand

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.
John Harding, Australia

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.
Godwin Haruna, Nigeria

Press freedom has never really existed in Zimbabwe

Alisdair Menzies, Switzerland
Press freedom has never really existed in Zimbabwe. Until the fairly recent development of an independent press, the only 'information' available was that of government-sponsored propaganda machines, such as the Herald. From the moment of the emergence of an independent press, Mugabe did everything in his power to muzzle it, making use of colonial-era censorship laws (how ironic for a former freedom-fighter!) when he didn't use brute force.

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.
Alisdair Menzies, Switzerland

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.
Anthony, Norway

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.
Mulugeta Y, Ethiopia

Press freedom in Zimbabwe like in the rest of Africa needs serious reform

Kauvi, Namibia
Press freedom in Zimbabwe like in the rest of Africa needs serious reform. Essentially it must be made independent not from African governments like Zimbabwe but from the so-called international community (Britain, USA, and other European countries).
Kauvi, Namibia

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.
Teshome, Markham/ Canada

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.
Ernest Cole, The Gambia/ Sierra Leone

Press freedom is facing death in Zimbabwe

John Carter, UK
There is no press freedom, or little at most. Mugabe doesn't want free speech, he just wants to stay in power. A free press won't help that so it must be crushed according to him. No free press, no free judiciary, no rule of law - an anarchy he can use to stay in power. Press freedom is facing death in Zimbabwe. If Mugabe wins the election, there will be no freedom full stop, let alone for people to publish articles criticising his government.
John Carter, UK

It is essential that domestic and foreign journalists continue to speak out the truth as loud as possible, at any cost. 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.
Edward de Ryckman de Betz, UK

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.
Eddie Edirisa Sebirumbi, Mississauga, Canada

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19 Feb 01 | Africa
Why I left Zimbabwe
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