Remember the hopes that a free media would be re-established in Zimbabwe following the formation of a government of national unity and banned independent newspapers like the Daily News would be back on the streets?
Press freedom group Reporters Without Borders sent a fact-finding mission to Zimbabwe last month. It has concluded: "Fed up with years of inactivity because of forced closures and still waiting for their newspapers to be given licences to start working again, Zimbabwe’s independent media journalists are drifting in limbo - between hope and resignation - Reporters Without Borders found during a fact-finding visit to Harare from 20 to 23 March, its first trip to Zimbabwe after years of being denied visas."
RWB says: “It is time for the government of national unity to demonstrate its will to reform press legislation and liberate the country’s media. There have been enough statements. We urge the Zimbabwe Media Council to quickly grant licences to the media that request them.”
Following the visit, RWB has now made the following recommendations.
- To the Zimbabwean government: Put a stop to the frequent police violence against journalists, quickly foster a climate more favourable to free expression for privately-owned independent newspapers, and open up broadcasting, currently monopolised by ZBC. The two parties, Zanu-PF and MDC, must work in a more determined and concerted fashion. It is time to pass from words to action.
- To the Zimbabwe Media Council: Immediately issue licences to newspapers that request them and conduct itself in a more transparent manner by ceasing to be uncommunicative about its activities, which are not known to the public.
- To the international community (SADC, African Union, European Union, UN and bilateral aid agencies): Put more pressure on Zimbabwe to ensure that opening up the media sector is one of the reform timetable’s priorities.
- To South African President Jacob Zuma (as the person mandated by the SADC to ensure full implementation of the Global Political Agreement, a power-sharing agreement between Zanu-PF and MDC): Be firmer with President Mugabe and Zanu-PF. By not cooperating fully with the MDC, President Mugabe and his party are the source of several obstacles to implementation of the power-sharing agreement and are thereby preventing Zimbabwe from advancing with determination down the road of democratisation.
- To Zimbabwean journalists: Try to avoid the very marked polarisation of political life by not taking a pro-Zanu-PF or pro-MDC position and by respecting the principles of neutrality and objectivity in order to provide the Zimbabwean people with better reporting.
- Picture: London protest in 2003 at closure of Daily News (Jon Slattery)