Majonga snubs Reporters Without Borders

HARARE - Newly-appointed chairperson of the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) Godfrey Majonga snubbed members of Reporters Without Borders during a fact-finding mission by the press freedom watchdog last month, the group said this week.

Reporters Without Borders said Majonga refused to meet a delegation from the Paris-based organisation which was led by the head of its Africa desk Reporters Without Borders regrets being unable to meet the head of the Zimbabwe Media Council (ZMC), who did not want to give an interview, the watchdog said. The delegation, which visited Zimbabwe from March 20-23, managed to meet Deputy Information Minister Jameson Timba, human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa, photojournalist Shadreck Manyere and staff from The Zimbabwe Independent, The Standard, NewsDay, The Financial Gazette and the defunct Daily News.

It also met a foreign press correspondent, a state media representative, and representatives of the Media Institute of Southern Africa, the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe Journalists for Human Rights and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights. The watchdog noted that delays in implementing the ZMCs mandate of licencing new media players to rival the state-run Zimbabwe Newspapers stable were causing unnecessary anguish among journalists who have waited for too long for the reforms and were fed up with years of inactivity.

The Zimbabwean press has endured enough repression in recent years, Reporters Without Borders said. Zimbabwe is ranked 136th out of 175 countries, according to the latest press freedom index published by Reporters Without Borders. It is time for the government of national unity to demonstrate its will to reform press legislation and liberate the countrys media. There have been enough statements. We urge the Zimbabwe Media Council to quickly grant licences to the media that request them, the group said.

Reforms to open up Zimbabwes media are likely to take longer than expected amid reports that the ZMC was facing administrative problems and reluctance by hardliners from President Robert Mugabes Zanu (PF) party to allow private newspapers to publish. The commission is yet to consider several applications from prospective publishers despite an assurance at the swearing in of its members in February that it would immediately start licensing private newspapers. Zimbabweans are desperate for alternative newspapers, having been forced to rely on one national state daily, The Herald, whose editors are picked by the Ministry of Information and accused of openly supporting Zanu (PF).

But efforts to licence other newspapers are likely to take much longer, with the ZMC still to have offices of its own and yet to be allocated funds, amounting to only $40,000 set out in the 2010 national budget. The commission does not have a secretariat and is believed to be seeking legal advice from the Attorney General on a number of issues, which critics say is part of delaying tactics by Zanu (PF).

The complex that used to house the old Tafataona Mahoso-led media commission has now been occupied by the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ), leaving the new commission without offices.

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