Zimbabwe journalists face 'propoganda' probe

Zimbabwean authorities have once again locked horns with the country’s independent media after a state watchdog accused the journalists’ union of disseminating propaganda against Robert Mugabe’s regime.

The latest complaint was filed against the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists days after a case against an independent radio station was thrown out by a court in Harare last week.

“We were given a set of documents by the MIC [Media and Information Commission] chairman accompanied by a letter expressing what he read to be political overtones to what ZUJ is doing and we are reading the documents to ascertain their authenticity,” said information ministry permanent secretary George Charamba.

“ZUJ has been trying to reach us to forge a good working relationship. It would be a sad day if what the MIC chairman is saying turns out to be true.”

The journalists’ union dismissed the complaint, saying it appeared to be yet another step in what it charges is a concerted campaign to silence reporters.

The Zimbabwe government passed tough media laws in early 2002 which have been invoked to expel foreign correspondents and muzzle the country’s once-vibrant independent press.

Although charges against the Voice of the People (VOP) independent radio station for operating without a license were dismissed last week, few independent media outlets are managing to operate.

“As a union we have never been party to an anti-government lobby as [MIC chairperson Tafataona] Mahoso wants the world to believe,” said the union’s secretary general Foster Dongozi.

“After killing off Daily News, the Daily News on Sunday, the Tribune and the Weekly Times, Mahoso is now targetting the ZUJ and any other organisations working for a free press.”

The four independent newspapers were all shut down by the commission for alleged breaches of the media laws.

In his letter to the information ministry, Mahoso claimed that the union was actively working to discredit the government of President Mugabe who has been in power since Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980.

“There is need for further investigation of the leaders of this organisation,” said Mahoso.

“ZUJ is part and parcel of the anti-Zimbabwe lobby. We have confidential information that ZUJ uses threats of donor sanctions to silence journalists and editors questioning its stance,” according to the letter which was published in the state-controlled Sunday Mail.

Police were also investigating Nunurai Jena, ZUJ’s provincial secretary in Mashonaland West Province, on allegations of stringing for the United States government-funded Voice of America, the paper said.

The regime in Washington has been particularly outspoken in its criticism of the Mugabe government, with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice describing Zimbabwe as an “outpost of tyranny”.

Following the closure of the independent publications, the only dailies still in circulation are the state-run Herald and Bulawayo-based Chronicle as well as the privately-owned Daily Mirror which has close links to the government.

In addition, Zimbabwe has four radio stations and one television station which are all controlled by the government.
- Sapa-AFP

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