MISA: Battered journalists sell abroad

BY A SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT HARARE - Increasingly repressive laws denying press freedom have resulted in low morale among Zimbabwean journalists and the immediate future looks bleak with scant chance of banned newspapers being allowed to publish again, the Media Institute of Southern Africa-Zimba

bwe said in its report for 2005.

“This has affected morale and the quality of stories with most journalists preferring to sell their investigative pieces to foreign media houses, or receiving ‘consultancy or settlement fees’ to protect certain corrupt businesspersons from negative publicity,” MISA-Zimbabwe added.

The report did not elaborate on the number or identities of journalists who it alleged take backhanders to suppress news. But it noted that restrictive laws – under the latest legislation reporters now risk 20 years in jail for displeasing the regime, combined with the blatantly partisan Media and Information Commission, poor salaries and inadequate investment in training have worsened the plight of Zimbabwean journalists.

“- The measures being put in place can only be indicative of worse times ahead for media freedom and freedom of expression,” said the report. “That coupled with the state-controlled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings (ZBH) monopoly of the airwaves, adds to the skewed and fast shrinking media landscape.”

MISA-Zimbabwe noted that one result of all this is that Zimbabweans who can tune into outside radio stations manned by exiled journalists, such as SW Radio Africa, beaming from London, Voice of the People and Voice of America. Online editions, including The Zimbabwean, NewZimbabwe.Com, ZimOnline and ZimNews also seek to fill the void created by the shutting down of privately owned publications.

“Government’s dillydallying on opening the airwaves has resulted in many Zimbabweans wasting millions in foreign currency to connect to foreign media outlets,” MISA-Zimbabwe said.

Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga has acknowledged that the broadcasting laws are restrictive, but has done nothing about it. In addition, scores of experienced journalists and broadcasters who were laid off in the crackdown on free speech from 2000 onward have still received no retrenchment packages.

Most live from hand to mouth, and some – including prominent journalists – have left the country, mainly for South Africa, Britain or the United States.

“This has seen the country’s sole public broadcaster being manned by inexperienced personnel as evidenced by the poor quality of news and programme content,” said MISA-Zimbabwe. Often those still working for the state broadcaster get paid late.

“That alone speaks volumes on the trials and tribulations of working for both the private and government-controlled media in Zimbabwe,” the report added. “Security of tenure is never guaranteed as one can wake up one morning behind bars, let alone without a job, as independent newspapers are always at risk of closure.”

MISA-Zimbabwe, along with journalists’ associations in the country, the Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe and National Editors Forum is pressing for the establishment of a voluntary self-regulatory media council as a parallel structure to the regime’s Media Information Commission.

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