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Cablegate: Media Update; Harare

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

230854Z Oct 03

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 HARARE 002104

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR AF/PDPA FOR DALTON, MITCHELL AND SIMS
AF/S FOR RAYNOR
NSC FOR JENDAYI FRAZER
LONDON FOR GURNEY
PARIS FOR NEARY
NAIROBI FOR PFLAUMER

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PHUM KPAO KMDR ZI
SUBJECT: MEDIA UPDATE; HARARE


1. Begin summary: Two independent newspapers "The Daily
News" and "The Daily News on Sunday" remain shut as the
government of Zimbabwe makes sure that Zimbabweans are
bereft of voice and answerability. The government of
Zimbabwe recasts some sections of the controversial Access
to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) into a
lethal piece of legislation that is more convoluted,
treacherous and vindictive. The Administrative Court will
rule this week in a case in which the Associated Newspapers
of Zimbabwe (ANZ) is challenging the state-appointed Media
and Information Commission (MIC) for rejecting its
application for registration. Friends of "The Daily News"
help the newspaper to put together an online edition from
South Africa. The Supreme Court of Zimbabwe clips the
wings of Information Minister Jonathan Moyo. Read on. End
summary.

2. By closing the "Daily News" and the "Daily News on
Sunday" on September 12, 2003 the government of Zimbabwe
literally threw spanners into the works of many Zimbabweans
who are urgently campaigning for a better future, political
freedom and sanity. With bold editorials and meticulous
exposes, the two newspapers, especially "The Daily News,"
had become vibrant searchlights of responsibility and had
shone brilliantly for everyone to see and enable them to
have a handle on the good, the bad and the ugly events
happening in a jagged and ever-shifting society. Only
those with the capability to access the private and
international media, particularly VOA's Studio 7 and Short
Wave Radio Africa, are able to obtain news reports closer
to reality on what is happening in this volatile southern
African nation.

3. The ubiquitous state-run print and electronic media is
working day in and day out to keep the public in the dark
ofn the socioeconomic and political challenges facing the
country. For example, the public media downplayed a recent
nation-wide strike called by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade
Unions (ZCTU) to show displeasure against the run-away
inflation, absence of rule of law, shortage of the local
currency, the inhibitive fuel and transport costs and the
continued violations of human rights, among other
grievances. Instead of giving an accurate account of the
arrests and police brutality against the demonstrators, the
government-controlled media carried vague reports about the
nationwide demonstrations and drenched the public with
soccer news.

4. In the absence of "The Daily News" and "The Daily News
on Sunday," Zimbabwe's meltdown will never be fully
articulated. Although we still have three weekly
independent newspapers, it will remain a tall order for
this small but vibrant press to challenge the official
version of events put out in the ubiquitous government
print and electronic media.

5. It's not over until "The Daily News" is back on the
streets. Although the Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe
(ANZ), publishers of the outlawed newspapers "The Daily
News" and "The Daily News on Sunday," has lost a couple of
court challenges in the last few weeks against their
closure after a Supreme Court ruling that ANZ was operating
illegally, the group has not lost hope nor thrown in the
towel. Last week ANZ was at the Administrative Court where
they challenged the state-appointed Media and Information
Commission (MIC) for declining its application for
registration. The case was even heard, for the first time
in many moons, on Sunday when all concerned parties
presented their closing arguments. However, judgment was
deferred to either on Thursday or Friday this week, as
announced by Justice Michael Majuru soon after the court
heard closing submissions from the ANZ and MIC. Many media
critics and commentators are not comfortable with this
delay in handing down a verdict. They fear political
manipulation. "The ANZ has a strong case, but we are
losing because the judges are making political decisions at
the expense of handing down impartial judgments," said Mr.
Bill Saidi, Editor, "The Daily News on Sunday."

6. Assisted by "Friends of The Daily News," the paper has
re-launched its electronic edition from Johannesburg, South
Africa. The new home for the online edition is www.daily-
news.co.zw. "The move has been inspired by our unwavering
commitment to serve the millions of people who read the
`Daily News' every day," ANZ said in a statement to
announce the new Internet edition. Adding: "The government
would not be able to stop it from operating on the
information super-highway as it had no power to do so."
All articles to be posted on the website will originate
from the newspaper's journalists in Zimbabwe, a move that
could be made impossible by the government through the
Media and Information Commission. At the moment, all the
journalists working for the ANZ have not been accredited by
the MIC as required by law. The October 17 edition of the
government-controlled daily "The Herald" published a
damning article on page 2 in which the paper accused ANZ of
"resolving to once again break the law" by having its
journalists "who are not accredited with the MIC" to gather
and write news in the country for the online edition. The
newspaper also quoted Information Minister Jonathan Moyo as
saying: "We advise those people to think of their careers.
If they want to be outlaws, they should be prepared for the
legal consequences. . .We are double determined to insist
on the rule of law and the rule of law shall prevail come
rain or sunshine."

7. In a separate development, The Media and Information
Commission has ordered the Zimbabwe Chapter of the Media
Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) to register under the
Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act
(AIPPA). In a letter to MISA dated June 4, the MIC told
the media watchdog to urgently comply with the regulation.
MISA has since filed an application in the High Court
seeking a declaratory order that it is not a media
organization. No date has been set for the hearing of the
MISA challenge.

8. Following the controversy surrounding the closure of
"The Daily News" and "The Daily News on Sunday" by the
government of Zimbabwe last month, the October 15 edition
of the government-controlled daily "The Herald" surprised
readers by publishing the full Supreme Court judgment that
led to the decision to close the newspaper. According to
the newspaper, the publication of the judgment was
"intended to clear distortions that have emerged in the
interpretation of the ruling."

9. Meanwhile, police have charged five ANZ directors and
45 journalists working for the ANZ for "illegally operating
a media business and working without accreditation or
working for an illegal media group," respectively. All
signed warned and cautioned statements before being
released. However, police will proceed by way of summons.
According to press reports, police are now interested in
questioning the ANZ owner, Mr. Strive Masiyiwa, for the
same offense.

10. In a notice in an extraordinary Government
Gazette - released suspiciously at the weekend -
Robert Mugabe is reported to have assented to the
newly recast Access to Information and Protection of
Privacy Act (AIIPA). The new Act has been heavily
criticized by MISA as "an oppressive piece of
legislation" that is "not compatible with democratic
moral values." Legal and media experts have
characterized the amendments as "largely cosmetic
and fall short of addressing the concerns of
journalists practicing in Zimbabwe." Analysts
interviewed by the independent weekly "Financial
Gazette" in the October 16 edition were disappointed
with the inconsequential facelift of the Act,
arguing that the amendments dwelt mainly on
replacing a few sections of the Act that had been
struck off by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional.
"It is my considered view that apart from changes to
Section 80, the amendments were so superficial as to
fail to change the character of AIPPA," lawyer
Sternford Moyo of Scanlen and Holderness was quoted
as saying. Adding: "AIPPA remains objectionable and
inconsistent with what one expects in a democratic
society. Its character as an obstacle to free flow
of information, ideas and beliefs remains." The
president of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists,
Matthew Takaona, criticized the new Act saying, "The
law gives too much power to the MIC. It actually
silences journalists."

11. Part of the amendments to AIPPA include the insertion
of a new section on the abuse of journalistic privilege
after the Supreme Court struck out section 80 of the Act
which mad it an offense for a journalist to publish
falsehoods as unconstitutional in May last year. Section
80 made it an offense to publish a falsehood but made no
reference to the intention of such publication. The new
section makes publication of falsehoods a criminal offense
only when there is a deliberate intention to publish a lie
or when the author of the falsehood is totally reckless
about whether the information is false or not. A new
section on abuse of freedom of expression states that a
person who makes use of a mass media service for the
purpose of abusing freedom of expression by publishing
falsehoods shall be guilty of an offense and liable to a
fine or imprisonment not exceeding six months or both such
fine and imprisonment.

12. The Supreme Court of Zimbabwe has clipped
Information Minister Jonathan Moyo's wings. In a
well-received ruling passed last month, the Supreme
Court declared unconstitutional section 6 of the
Broadcasting Services Act that gave the minister
unfettered power to veto the granting of a license
by the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe, as well
as the requirement to have only one national radio
and television station in addition to the public
broadcaster, Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.
This verdict was made following an application by
"Capitol Radio" challenging the refusal by the
Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe to give it a
license to operate in the country. The Supreme
Court struck off Section 6 of the Act that made
Information Minister Jonathan Moyo the sole
licensing authority, saying, "This seriously
undermined the independence of the regulatory
authority."

13. Comment: The closure of "The Daily News" and "The
Daily News on Sunday" has effectively destroyed one of the
pillars of democracy. Without reliable and balanced
sources of information about what is happening in
government and the society, Zimbabweans have been denied an
extremely important source of information, providing news
and analysis about what is happening inside their country,
and of the solutions to national problems. Instead, the
ubiquitous state-controlled print and electronic media is
failing to inform the nation fully and objectively.
Zimbabweans are fed a one-sided view, which does not give
the full story of events and issues. In commenting about
the closure of "The Daily News," "The Post" newspaper in
neighboring Zambia aptly sums up this new entry in
Zimbabwe's sorry record of media oppression by declaring:
"The Zimbabwe government has never shown much commitment to
the defense of a free, independent and robustly critical
press. It has never accepted the freedom of the press as
its inalienable right to be a critic and a monitor."

SULLIVAN

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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