Zim. Independent Newspapers.

Zim. Independent Newspapers.

Harare

The Zimbabwean government's move to ask two independent newspapers it had
banned to re-register is being viewed with much scepticism in local media
circles.


The Daily News and the Daily News on Sunday, both published by Associated
Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ), were shut down by the government-controlled
Media and Information Commission (MIC) in September 2003 after they failed
to register under the controversial Access to Information and Protection of
Privacy Act (AIPPA).The newspapers had been critical of the ZANU-PF government. The Daily News,
set up in 1999, was believed to have the biggest circulation in the
country - around 100,000 - when it was closed.Chinondidyachii Mararike, the chair of a special MIC committee, recently
told the official daily newspaper, the Herald, that they were waiting for
ANZ to submit its application, after being directed to do so by Information
Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu."We are not there to ensure that ANZ is not registered, but to make sure
that the application is handled by the special board in a fair and just
manner," the Herald quoted Mararike as saying.He said his committee was not "prejudging the ANZ application for
registration as a mass media service." Various court rulings in the past
have urged the government to reconsider its decision on the ANZ application
to register.

Not sincere.

Takura Zhangazha, spokesman for the Media Institute of Southern Africa
(MISA, Zimbabwe chapter) claimed there was "absolutely no sincerity" on the
part of the government to bring back the ANZ titles as vibrant independent
newspapers."It's a political game. There is no way in which the two newspapers are
going to be given back their licences before the elections, as would have
been ideal to ensure balanced and diversified media coverage of the polls,"
Zhangazha told IRIN.Presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held in March
2008, but the opposition has called for a postponement until June.Zhangazha said the process of registering the newspapers would require at
least two months to complete, "but then, that would just be the elementary
stage, considering that the banned papers have a mammoth logistical task in
mobilising resources, recruiting staff, among other requirements, to ensure
a serious media project".

Attempt at reforms

South African president Thabo Mbeki has been asked by the Southern African
Development Community (SADC) to hold talks between ZANU-PF and the two
factions of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), in which
media reform prior to the elections has been one of the key issues.The government has made some "concessions" during the talks. At the request
of the MDC, amendments to media laws were included; a move observers said
was an attempt by the government to bring credibility to the elections.The MIC is to be reconstituted to include a chairperson and eight members
nominated by a parliamentary committee, rather than a membership put in
place by the information minister.The amended Broadcasting Services Act now also provides for parliament toput forward the names of people to run the Broadcasting Authority of
Zimbabwe (BAZ), which has refused to break the state-controlled Zimbabwe
Broadcasting Corporation's monopoly of the airwaves since 2000.

Window-dressing

The Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) said it would "only believe the
government's overture to bring back the two papers when they hit the
streets".Foster Dongozi, secretary-general of the ZUJ, told IRIN: "We have watched
since 2003, when several attempts were made by the two papers to resume
publication, but what is clear is that the government has used all its
tricks to ensure that the paper did not renew operations, even when the
courts ruled in favour of ANZ, and that makes us very sceptical."
Dongozi said the "window-dressing process" of inviting ANZ to apply for an
operating licence was the result of a political process, after pressure had
been exerted during the ongoing talks mediated by the SADC.The ZUJ was also disturbed by the apparent preoccupation with the ANZ
newspapers, when two other newspapers had also been banned for allegedly
failing to comply with AIPPA conditions.The Tribune was closed in 2004 for its failure to notify the MIC of
structural changes to the paper, while another fledgling newspaper, the
Weekly Times, after becoming increasingly critical of the government, was
also banned for non-compliance.