Zim targets foreign papers

The Zimbabwean government has now set its sights on foreign newspapers circulating in Zimbabwe. Officials are making threatening noises about foreign publications, including the Mail & Guardian, which they deem to be hostile to the ruling establishment.

Two weeks ago the government accused a United Nations security official based in Harare of spreading dangerous information about Zimbabwe through the Internet. The official had issued a security warning to UN workers based there.

At the beginning of the week, the state-controlled The Sunday Mail — usually a mirror of the government’s disposition — published a story accusing the M&G of using “unaccredited journalists”.

The state weekly, quoting unnamed sources, also questioned why the M&G was circulating in Zimbabwe when its major shareholder, Trevor Ncube, was running the Zimbabwe Independent.

The impression that The Sunday Mail’s attack on the M&G was officialdom thinking aloud received backing this week when the chairman of Zimbabwe’s Media and Information Commission (MIC) — a quasi-judicial body pliant to government manipulation — described the newspaper as “unprincipled” and accused it of violating the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa) by using unaccredited journalists.

“We have noticed that there are Zimbabwean journalists who are exporting stories to the Mail & Guardian’s foreign desk but who are not accredited with the Media and Information Commission,” said MIC chairperson Tafataona Mahoso in an interview.

“There are two offences here. Firstly, they are not registered with the MIC. Secondly, they earn rands for publishing their stories.

“That money is not accounted for. So you see there is a forex question here and that of registration. It’s not only Aippa; even the RBZ [Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe] would be concerned.”

Under Aippa it is an offence for a journalist to practise in Zimbabwe without a licence. And RBZ governor Gideon Gono’s new monetary policy has seen the government clamping down on the illegal trade in scarce foreign currency.

Mahoso could not explain who had lodged the complaint. “This story was in The Sunday Mail, a duly registered entity in Zimbabwe. Because The Sunday Mail has carried the story, it is a complainant,” he said. “Besides, the commission can institute its own investigations. All foreign desks should be registered. Reuters, Agence France-Presse and even the Chinese news agency Xinhuanet’s foreign desks are registered with the commission.”

M&G publisher Ncube said this week that the M&G management had not used the articles of any unregistered journalists in Zimbabwe and had not made payments to any news writers there.

“In any case, what would be the point of doing this when we have our own pool of registered journalists at the Zimbabwe Independent and The Standard?,” he said. “We have Zimbabwean-based columnists who contribute to the M&G, which is distributed all across the world. We have no plans now or in the future of publishing in Zimbabwe, as claimed in the [Sunday Mail] story.

“And for the record: we have turned around the M&G in just under two years and our circulation is growing in both South Africa and the region, as our audited circulation figures will attest.”

Ncube said The Sunday Mail article was a good example of how the Zimbabwe government had, over the past five years, abused the state media to pursue narrow political agendas and to victimise perceived opponents.

“It is one example of how state-employed journalists have prostituted themselves to the political elite and done away with all pretence at professionalism,” he said.

“The story is defamatory, malicious and highly irresponsible. It serves no public good at all.

“Its sole intention is to portray me and the Mail & Guardian in a bad light and to help the Media and Information Commission build up a case against the paper.

“I am disappointed that the MIC chairman gave the story some respectability by commenting before verifying the veracity of the claims in the story.”

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