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Zimbabwe: World's Worst Places to Be a Journalist

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  • pbs@iafrica.com
    From: WWW.AfricanCrisis.Org [Mugabe is always speaking of democracy and freedom ... Yet, look at him. He is doing worse things to the Blacks than any White
    Message 1 of 1 , May 3, 2005
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      From: WWW.AfricanCrisis.Org
      [Mugabe is always speaking of "democracy" and "freedom"... Yet, look at
      him. He is doing worse things to the Blacks than any White man ever did.
      So much for his pose as a "Liberal Democrat". He is no different to
      Stalin or Hitler. Jan]

      From IPS, 2 May
      Less press, little freedom
      By: Sekai Ngara

      Harare - Last year, Zimbabwe earned itself a place on a list of the
      'World's Worst Places to Be a Journalist', published by the New
      York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Twelve months on, little has
      changed. Another of the country's few independent publications - 'The
      Weekly Times' - was forced to close shop earlier this year, after having
      its licence withdrawn by the state-controlled Media and Information
      Commission (MIC). Under Zimbabwe's 2002 Access to Information and
      Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa), journalists and publishing houses must
      apply to the MIC for a licence to operate. News organisations are not
      allowed to employ journalists who have failed to register with the
      commission. Those reporters who are caught practicing without the
      blessing of the MIC face imprisonment of up to two years. 'The Weekly
      Times' followed in the footsteps of Zimbabwe's sole privately-owned
      daily, 'The Daily News', which was banned in 2003 along with its sister
      paper, 'The Daily News on Sunday'. Another independent weekly, 'The
      Tribune', also had its licence withdrawn, in 2004. Licences for
      journalists are renewable every twelve months while those for publishing
      houses are good for two years.

      "The fear that one's licence may not be renewed if he or she writes
      something the government may not like has introduced a certain element of
      self-censorship," says Foster Dongozi, secretary-general of the Zimbabwe
      Union of Journalists and a senior reporter for 'The Standard' - an
      independent weekly. "One always has to be cautious when reporting issues
      considered sensitive by the government." Dongozi describes the requests
      for information put forward by the MIC as intrusive. "Beside...your
      educational qualifications, you also need to give details such as your
      place of residence, your private phone numbers, e-mail address, passport
      details and the details of your spouse, where she works etc." This has
      fuelled fears, he adds, that the MIC is little more than an
      intelligence-gathering body set up by a state which is sensitive to the
      numerous allegations of poor governance and human rights abuse that have
      been made against it. Unease about the intentions of the MIC prompts
      journalists to give the commission false information, says Dongozi, while
      certain free-lancers have opted to ignore the Aippa directive and work
      under pseudonyms.

      But, the perils of registration constitute just a few of the challenges
      that Zimbabwean journalists face. Even those who have the appropriate
      documents in hand are said to face hostility from government officials
      and members of the ruling Zanu PF - with certain Zanu PF officials
      accusing reporters of gathering information for the opposition. As a
      result, independent journalists cover ruling party functions at their own
      risk. "Reporters have been harassed (at) ruling party events," says
      Dongozi, who claims that the main opposition group - the Movement for
      Democratic Change - has also been known to look askance at journalists
      from the state-owned media: "The ruling party is, however, guilty in the
      majority of cases." Journalists also face an additional legislative
      hurdle in the form of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Bill,
      which makes it an offence to communicate information that proves to be
      false, and which may promote "public disorder or public violence" in
      Zimbabwe.

      The law places reporters who are unable to substantiate facts with
      recalcitrant government officials in the position of having to hold off
      on publishing important stories indefinitely - lest the items prove
      inaccurate. Anyone falling foul of the Criminal Law Bill is liable for a
      heavy fine or imprisonment of up to twenty years - or both. In addition,
      another clause in the bill criminalizes "abusive" and "indecent"
      statements about the presidency. What future, then, for the political
      cartoonist in Zimbabwe? The country's new minister of information,
      Tichaona Jokonya, has voiced a desire to improve relations between
      government and the independent media. Jokonya replaced Jonathan Moyo,
      widely believed to have been the architect of Aippa, after the latter was
      booted out of Zanu PF for defying a party directive and standing as an
      independent in parliamentary elections held Mar. 31. At a recent meeting
      of editors from the private and state media, Jokonya invited journalists
      to come up with ways in which Aippa could be amended to make the act more
      palatable. This prompted some to sound a note of cautious optimism.
      Vincent Kahiya, editor of the weekly 'The Independent', who attended the
      meeting, said the new minister sounded very enthusiastic. "What remains
      to be seen is whether the system will allow him to carry out his agenda,"
      he added.

      Dongozi, however, is sceptical. "It can very well be diplomatic
      posturing," he noted, but added that the media should make use of what he
      described as a "window of uncertainty" to engage the new information
      minister. The current atmosphere of d�tente that Dongozi has remarked on
      may stem from the fact that Zanu PF swept to victory in the March poll,
      in the midst of allegations that the electoral playing field was heavily
      tilted in its favour. The previous parliamentary election, held in 2000,
      and the presidential poll of 2002 were marred by allegations of
      irregularities. In 2000, Zimbabwe also became the site of controversial
      farm occupations by supposed veterans of the country's 1970s war of
      independence. These dealt a blow to the Zimbabwe's beleaguered economy,
      which has also suffered from other forms of mismanagement. Crucially,
      Jokonya has said he believes Aippa should stay on the books, albeit with
      possible amendments. And, the ultimate arbiter of any possible change to
      the act, President Robert Mugabe, still appears supportive of the law. In
      an interview with the South African Broadcasting Corporation soon after
      his party won the parliamentary election, Mugabe described Aippa as "a
      good law", and said it was here to stay. As the international community
      marks World Press Freedom Day this week (May 3), such words are unlikely
      to inspire confidence amongst reporters in Zimbabwe.

      Source: WWW.ZwNews.Com
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