Zimbabwe takes steps toward a freer press


From the Times Live. | See CPJ analysis of Zimbabwe's press status.

By the end of next week, Zimbabweans should have their first taste of an independent daily newspaper after seven years of President Robert Mugabe's unsavoury state-controlled propaganda.

Newsday, published by South African-based media entrepreneur Trevor Ncube, is expected to be first on the streets of four daily newspapers granted licences by the new Zimbabwe Media Commission on Wednesday, June 2.

It would be one of the few real reforms to have been carried out by the 15-month-old power-sharing government between the despotic Mugabe and his pro-democracy partner, Morgan Tsvangirai.

Zimbabwe's last independent daily disappeared in September 2003, when the government banned the feisty Daily News and sent armed riot police into its offices in Central Harare, drove out all the staff and dumped their computers at a prison complex outside Harare.

Under editor Geoff Nyarota, the paper in its four years of existence keenly responded to the pulse of Zimbabweans longing for political change, and drove straight up the nose of the regime with a stream of stinging commentaries and embarrassing disclosures of the brutality, intrigue and bungling of Mugabe and his cronies.

Since then, The Herald, whose staff are known to report directly to the Ministry of Information, has been the sole daily paper on offer.

It extols the virtues of Mugabe - unfailingly referred to as "his excellency, the president, the head of state and government and commander-in-chief of the armed forces of Zimbabwe" - while running a smear campaign of distortion and lies against Tsvangirai, human rights activists, whites, gays and the West in general.

"People need to experience a diversity of voices," said Iden Wetherell, chairman of Zimbabwe's National Editors Forum.

"They need to make informed choices when voting, or participating in the political process. The state media has remained firmly in the grip of the hardliners of the regime."

Newsday first applied for a licence eight months ago, since when it has taken on a skeleton staff running weekly dummies.

"We do have a lot of expectations," said Raphael Khumalo, chief executive of Alpha Media Holdings which owns the paper and has been able to continue publishing two respected weeklies through the last seven years.

"People for a long time have not seen the truth, and at last they will be able to read and be better informed about what is happening in the country," he said.

Africa, Societynone