Zimbabwe has most repressive media laws in SADC

'The state mouthpieces continue to vilify independent journalists as clowns and sell-outs'
WINDHOEK - For the fifth successive year Zimbabwe topped the list as the country with the most repressive laws against media freedom throughout the Southern African De

velopment Community (SADC), the region’s respected media institute said in its annual report for 2005. The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), which has its headquarters in Namibia, handed out criticisms of most of the other countries – but these were generally mild compared with its damning assessment of Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe’s regime. Zimbabwe is a country with “weapons of mass destruction against the media,” in the form of the infamous so-called protection of privacy (AIPPA) and Public Order and Security (POSA) acts reinforced by new laws proscribing even harsher penalties, said MISA. The report, titled “So This is Democracy? 2005: State of Media Freedom in Southern Africa,” was released April 27. This overt strategy to silence the independent media has been backed by what MISA called “another nail in the coffin,” an insidious scheme to effect ultimate control over the media with secret buy-ups by Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Agency of the previously independent Mirror group. But MISA appeared uncertain whether the Financial Gazette has been bought by the CIO, as reported by the Zimbabwe Independent last year. MISA said that all that was now left as truly privately-owned publications were the Financial Gazette, Zimbabwe Standard and Zimbabwe Independent. The number of cases of harassment, arrest, vilification and assault of journalists working for the private media in Zimbabwe has declined since the 2000 and 2002 elections, largely because of the “absence of the critically informative Daily News and other newspapers such as The Tribune,” said MISA. The report outlined how, ignoring international outcries about banning The Daily News and other independent publications, the Mugabe regime pressed on in 2005 with even more restrictive anti-media laws, meaning journalists now risk jail sentences of up to 20 years. The authorities’ assaults were not confined to the private media, said MISA, recalling how scores of experienced journalists and broadcasters were retrenched at the then Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corp. and replaced by juniors hand-picked by former Information Minister Jonathan Moyo. “As a result, the country’s sole public broadcaster is manned by inexperienced personnel, as evidenced by the poor quality of news and programme control.” The state mouthpieces continue to vilify independent journalists, including those in exile, as “clowns and sell-outs.” “This extreme intolerance has resulted in at least 90 Zimbabwean journalists, including several of the nation’s prominent media professionals, being exiled in South Africa, Namibia, the United Kingdom and the USA,” said the report. “The enactment of additional repressive anti-media freedom laws can only be indicative of worse times ahead for media freedom and freedom of expression in Zimbabwe,” added MISA. “That, coupled with the state-controlled ZBH monopoly of the airwaves, adds top a skewed and fast shrinking media landscape.”
MISA noted that many Zimbabweans now tune into foreign-based stations manned by their exiled compatriots such as SW Radio Africa, Voice of the People Radio and Voice of America. Several websites, namely ZWNews, ZimOnline and NewZimbabwe.Com seek to fill the void created by the banning of independent newspapers.
Among other SADC nations, MISA said that Botswana was “no longer a shining example,” following the deportation last year of Professor Kenneth Good, an Australian academic who criticised the ruling party; two Zimbabwean journalists, Roderick Mukumbira, editor of Ngani Times, and Charles Chirinda, correspondent of the state-owned BTV, were also ordered out. And a plan by the government, on grounds the independent press opposes it, to produce a daily paper did not bode well. Mozambique is credited with a free media, although two cases of aggression against journalists were reported. Lesotho is also relatively free press and protects citizens’ rights to freedom of expression. In South Africa, too, the press is free, but the media “must remain vigilant” to protect this, said MISA. However, while things on the surface have improved – except of course in Zimbabwe – MISA said that courts, not governments, had become the leading oppressors of media freedoms, sometimes awarding huge damages against private papers.

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