Freedom of the Press
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The situation for Zimbabwean media remained extremely poor in 2005, as Robert Mugabe's government made attempts to further restrict the already severely limited amount of unfiltered news and information that is able to circulate inside the country. Despite constitutional provisions for freedom of expression, an otherwise draconian legislative framework continues to inhibit the free operation of journalists and media outlets. Legal restrictions were tightened in January with the enactment of an amendment to the 2002 Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and in June by a new Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Bill. Whereas the original AIPPA required all journalists and media companies to register with the government-controlled Media and Information Commission (MIC) and gave the information minister sweeping powers to decide who could work as a journalist, the amended version introduced prison sentences of up to two years for journalists working without accreditation. The Daily News-the country's only independent daily, shuttered in 2003 for not adhering to the AIPPA-continued to be denied a license by the MIC in 2005. Constitutional challenges to the AIPPA by affiliates of the Daily News have proven unsuccessful; the Supreme Court upheld the law for the second time in March. A Harare magistrate acquitted former Daily News journalist Kelvin Jakachira of working without accreditation. At least eight of his colleagues continue to face similar charges, although (somewhat encouragingly) none of those charged thus far under the AIPPA have been convicted. The MIC ordered the closure of the independent Weekly Times in March 2005 for violating the AIPPA after only eight weeks of publication and denied Africa Tribune Newspapers-publishers of the previously shuttered weekly Tribune-a license to resume publication in July. Authorities continue to use a range of restrictive legislation-including the Official Secrets Act, the AIPPA, the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), and criminal defamation laws-to harass journalists. Section 15 of the POSA and Section 80 of the AIPPA criminalize the publication of "inaccurate" information, and both laws have been used to intimidate, arrest, and prosecute journalists. The new Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Bill increases prison sentences for similar violations to a maximum of 20 years.
Journalists are routinely subjected to verbal intimidation, physical attacks, arrest and detention, and financial pressure at the hands of the police, authorities, and supporters of the ruling party. Instances of arbitrary arrest and detention occur primarily when reporters are trying to cover politically-charged stories such as the controversial housing demolitions that began in May. Cornelius Nduna was forced into hiding in February and hunted by the Central Intelligence Organization (CIO) for possessing video footage of paramilitary activities at youth training camps. During the past several years, dozens of Zimbabwean journalists have fled the country, and according to a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists, over 90 currently live in exile, predominantly in South Africa and the United Kingdom.
Foreign journalists are regularly denied visas to file stories from Zimbabwe, and local correspondents for foreign publications, particularly those whose reporting has portrayed the regime in an unfavorable light, have been refused accreditation or threatened with lawsuits and deportation. In February, three such correspondents-Angus Shaw, Brian Latham, and Jan Raath-fled the country after extensive harassment by the authorities, although Raath and Shaw eventually returned. The passport of publisher Trevor Ncube was seized temporarily by Zimbabwean airport authorities in December on his return from South Africa. Two reporters for the London-based Sunday Telegraph were arrested for reporting on the March parliamentary elections without proper accreditation and spent two weeks in prison before being deported.
The government, through the Mass Media Trust holding company, controls several major daily newspapers, including the Chronicle and the Herald; coverage in these news outlets consists of favorable portrayals of Mugabe and the ruling ZANU-PF party and attacks on perceived critics of the regime such as opposition parties, other antigovernment groups, and foreign governments. Several independent weeklies such as The Standard and the Zimbabwe Independent continue to publish, although many journalists practice extensive self-censorship. During the year, there were reports that the CIO was attempting to increase its influence over media outlets such as the Daily Mirror through buying ownership shares and placing spies within the newsroom. The state-controlled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation runs all broadcast media, which are seen as mouthpieces of the regime. While the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party was granted relatively greater access to these media in the run-up to the March 2005 elections, that month the government-using Chinese technology-began jamming the shortwave signal of the London-based radio station SW Radio Africa, forcing it to switch frequencies. A similar fate befell the independent radio station Voice of the People in September. Broadcasting licenses have been denied to independently owned radio stations, and although satellite television services that provide international news programming remain largely uncensored, their prohibitive cost places them out of reach for most Zimbabweans. Access to the internet is unrestricted, although the law allows the government to monitor the e-mail content of the 6.7 percent of the population with internet access.