State journos fear news clampdown

Suspected Central Intelligence Organisation elements in the Department of Immigration raided the offices of the state-controlled New Ziana news agency last week demanding to take away the writer of a story they felt was offensive.

Sources at the agency's headquarters at Mass Media House said the 'immigration officers' approached several staff members asking who had written a story claiming that smuggling was rife at Harare airport.

The airport is the usual entry point for goods smuggled into the country by members of President Robert Mugabe's huge entourages. Mugabe himself is known to enjoy duty-free access on all goods – but the facility has for years been abused by senior intelligence and military officers who travel with him.

Eventually, the Ziana sources said, the officers were referred to the agency's editor, Rangarirai Shoko. Shoko was summoned for a meeting with senior immigration officials, where he was ordered to stop publishing stories about smuggling. Immigration officials also demanded a retraction, which they got.

Sources said journalists at the agency, who have felt protected by state agents so far, were terrified by the incident, as the 'immigration officers' threatened to deal individually with state journalists who published corruption stories involving senior government officials.

Mugabe has directed the police, for example, not to investigate any cases involving senior Zanu (PF) officials without express authority from his office.

New Ziana is supposed to operate independently under the re-constituted Mass Media Trust which has, so far, failed to take off. The agency, which won international awards in the 1980s, is now a department in Mugabe's office, 13th in order of priority and used as a dumping ground for soldiers and other well-connected characters.

Despite provisions in the Global Political Agreement for formerly government-controlled entities to operate freely, Zanu (PF) continues to exert massive control over the media and the security forces in particular.

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