Independent papers get license to report Zimbabwe news
The first of five new independent newspapers could start reporting Zimbabwe news this weekend after receiving a government license.
Cape Town, South Africa; and Harare, Zimbabwe
The first of Zimbabwe’s new independent newspapers could be on the streets as early as this Sunday after media groups were granted licenses last week.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Sixteen months after the launch of the power-sharing government, the Zimbabwe Media Commission gave five groups permission to operate. Its action came after months of lobbying by journalists, publishing companies, and from within Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
Until last week, the MDC’s partner in government, ZANU-PF, (the party of President Robert Mugabe), had been reluctant to allow potentially hostile new publications to appear on the streets, challenging the state-supported Herald’s dominance. Pressure for the move came from South Africa's president Jacob Zuma, who is the official mediator between the two parties.
"As a party we have always advocated for media freedom and we are happy our dream has been realized especially with the help of our friends ... from South Africa," said Jameson Timba, deputy minister of Information and an MDC member. "There was a need to open the media space."
Alpha Media Holdings hopes to be the first company to hit the newsstands when its NewsDay publishes on June 6. It has been running dummy editions with a fully staffed newsroom and printing presses on hand ready for the ZMC’s decision.
Planning to join that publication will be Modus Publications, Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe, Fruitlink Ventures, and the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions – the only other groups to apply for licenses.
The commission, which is chaired by Godfrey Majonga, a former Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corp. newsreader, gave the go-ahead last Wednesday, but analysts believe the decision was taken high up in the ZANU-PF hierarchy, and possibly by President Mugabe.
“I’m sure they [MDC] played a part, but the decision would have come from ZANU-PF," says Zoe Titus, regional programs manager at the Media Institute of Southern Africa. "The decision to bring in draconian media laws in the early 2000s was brought in by them and was probably made in the president’s office.... Zimbabwe is under intense scrutiny at the moment and its democratic credentials are under the microscope, so this was a factor.”
Fewer people get information from newspapers
But, she says, the decision did not go far enough.
With daily papers costing $1 and Sundays $2, Ms. Titus said a decreasing number of people can afford to get their information from newspapers.
“While the world celebrates we should remember that there has been no change in the broadcast sector, which is strictly state-owned and controlled," she says. "Newspapers serve their function, but many people get their information from television and radio and those areas have not been opened up, although we are optimistic they will.”
The five organizations plan to publish five newspapers – four dailies and the unions’ weekly – that could create as many as 500 jobs. Journalists will automatically be accredited once they are employed by the newspapers. No reporter at any of the approved publications has so far been refused documentation.