Cablegate: Zimbabwe Media Under Siege

DE RUEHSB #0656 2170610
R 040610Z AUG 08



E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) SUMMARY: The conditions for independent media in Zimbabwe
continue to worsen. Harassment of journalists by Zimbabwe
government (GOZ) state agencies continues. Despite the recent
signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between President
Robert Mugabe and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the GOZ
continues to restrict freedom of expression and target independent
newspapers to silence criticism. Taxes imposed on foreign
publications have eliminated some newspapers and unless removed,
threaten the survival of other publications. Economic conditions in
Zimbabwe present a further threat to the survival of independent
newspapers in Zimbabwe. END SUMMARY.

--------------------------------------------- ---
Government Continues to Harass Independent Media
--------------------------------------------- ---

2. (U) On July 10 the Magistrate's Court dismissed an application to
remove the remand order from "The Standard" newspaper and its editor
Davison Maruziva. The newspaper and its editor are being charged,
along with opposition leader Arthur Mutambara, with communicating
falsehoods prejudicial to the State and contempt of court. The GOZ
has not provided the newspaper's lawyers with required evidence from
the police logs to prepare for the trial. Charges against the
paper, Maruziva and Mutambara arose on April 20 following
publication of the opposition leader's opinion article titled "A
Shameful Betrayal of National Independence." The trial continues on
August 28.

3. (SBU) Al-Jazeera Bureau Chief Cyrus Nhara told us that he has
been summoned several times by GOZ Ministry of Information officials
for what they routinely term "administrative meetings." During the
meetings, GOZ officials threateningly raise spurious compliance
issues concerning Al-Jazeera's accreditation and the non-renewal of
the contract of a former Al-Jazeera employee, Supa Mandiwanzira, a
known ZANU-PF sympathizer. Ordinarily such issues would be handled
by the Media and Information Commission. Despite this continued
harassment, Al-Jazeera's accreditation hasn't been removed and the
news agency was the only media outlet to provide live coverage of
the signing ceremony between Zanu-PF and the two MDC formations on
July 21, 2008.

4. (U) Several independent journalists and foreign correspondents
were barred from covering the signing ceremony of the MOU between
ZANU-PF and the two MDC formations at the Rainbow Towers Hotel on
July 21. GOZ-controlled media described the decision to prohibit
the presence of these journalists, and western diplomats, as
avoiding an intrusion which President Robert Mugabe had warned
Zimbabweans to guard against.

Punitive Taxes Affecting Foreign Publications

5. (SBU) The import tax on foreign newspapers introduced by the GOZ
in early June has forced one independent newspaper, "The
Zimbabwean," to stop printing its Sunday edition. Wilf Mbanga,
publisher and editor of the newspaper, printed in South Africa, told
us that they are paying 42,650 Rand (USD 5,786) for 60,000 copies,
the newspaper's current print run. The newspaper was forced to
reduce the print run to 60,000 each week from 200,000 before the
imposition of the taxes. Mbanga told us that the taxes are actually
more than the 40 percent announced publicly by the GOZ. The
newspaper also pays 15 percent Value Added Tax (VAT) and 15 percent
super-tax on top of the duty, making the total 70 percent. Mbanga
said they suspended the Sunday edition as they would have exhausted
their annual budget within two months. The newspaper paid 500,000
Rand (USD 67,827) in June alone - because they were sending the
usual 200,000 on Thursdays and 60,000 on Sundays.

Spiraling printing charges
force newspapers to reduce print run

6. (SBU) Independent newspapers publishing in Zimbabwe report a
reduction in their print runs as a result of increases in printing
charges. Sources report that the cost of printing rose 6,414
percent between June 27 and July 26. Zimind group CEO Raphael
Khumalo described the increasing prices as "cost opportunism run
riot" that could result in the shutting down of the two newspapers
Zimind publishes, "The Standard (every Sunday) and the "Zimbabwe
Independent" (every Friday).

7. (SBU) COMMENT: Despite the on-going talks between Robert Mugabe
and the MDC, we expect the GOZ will continue curtailing the free
flow of information and criticism. Morale among independent
journalists is extremely low. The GOZ continues to cultivate a
climate of fear that has increased self-censorship. It will require
a major effort to cultivate a culture of truly independent
journalism. END COMMENT.


© Scoop Media

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