Zimbabwe: Print Media

Updated February 2002

There are several independent journals in Zimbabwe. Amongst the most prominent are the weekly publications, the Financial Gazette, Zimbabwe Independent, and Sunday Standard and a daily, the Daily News. The weekly Financial Gazette, Zimbabwe Independent, and Sunday Standard are by far the most widely read. In particular, the Financial Gazette's weekly readership of its printed edition is at about 400 000.

With a population of 12 293 953, according to UN estimates, Zimbabwe illiteracy rate is only 15%, against an average of 38% in sub-Saharan Africa (World Bank Group 2000). Zimbabwe's advanced level of literacy has greatly contributed to enhance press readership and development. The independent press developed during the 1990s to find a niche-market to launch its challenge to state-controlled news organizations: namely, the Community Newspapers Group (CNG), which publishes several newspapers regionally, and Zimbabwe Newspapers Ltd. (Zim-papers), which publishes The Herald, The Sunday News, The Sunday Mail, and the daily Chronicle, amongst others (Karanja 2000).

In Zimbabwe, the working environment for journalists has deteriorated and independent newspapers have been under siege with acts of harassment increasing as election dates approached. The Zimbabwe Independent, Financial Gazette, the Standard, and Daily News especially have suffered heavy revenue losses from the seizure of copies and intimidation of street vendors (Muleya 2002). On 22 August 2001, the independent experts of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights revealed that several news editors and correspondents from these independent newspapers appeared on a hit-list compiled by the Zimbabwe police and the Central Intelligence Organization. Several of these newspapers were prevented from being distributed regionally by government-sponsored militants. Amongst those listed were Basildon Peta from the Financial Gazette; Geoff Nyarota, editor of the Zimbabwe Daily News; Iden Wetherell, editor of the Zimbabwe Independent; and Mark Chavunduka and Cornelius Nduna, from Standard Newspaper (United Nations 2001).

At present, independent media journalists also face real problems operating under existing media legislation. The Public Order and Security Bill (2001) contain a long list of restrictions on free expression, including prohibitions on criticism of the Zimbabwean President. Under such provisions, a person can be sent to prison for issuing public statements that 'engender hostility towards,' or 'cause hatred, contempt or ridicule of the President, whether in person or in respect of his office' (Public Order and Security Bill 2001, Part II).

In addition, the bill makes it unlawful to produce any communication or publication of statement that is deemed prejudicial to the state, 'promoting public disorder or public violence; adversely affecting the defence or economic interests of Zimbabwe; or undermining public confidence in a law enforcement agency' (Public Order and Security Bill 2001, 15; McGreal & Meldrum 2002). A person can be sent to prison for, literally, 'uttering words' that are obscene, threatening, abusive, insulting or intending to provoke a breach of the peace. In addition, exposing to hatred, contempt or ridicule any group would be made punishable by jail terms and heavy fines.

The wording of the provisions attracted severe criticism for leaving much room to the discretion of the Minister of Information. Broadly defined clauses might be used to censor Zimbabwean journalists who have published on foreign newspapers in the past. Effectively, charges could be formulated to accuse journalists of assisting terrorism (Peta 2002).

References:

COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS 2000, Fifty-sixth session Item 11 (c) of the provisional agenda Civil and Political Rights including the Question of: Freedom of Expression Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. Abid Hussain, submitted in accordance with Commission resolution 1999/36, E/CN.4/2000/63, 18 January.

KARANJA, D 2000, "Zimbabwe's free but can the press be free?" IN Nieman Reports, 54(3), Fall.

MCGREAL, C & MELDRUM, A 2002, "Mugabe declares war on dissent" IN The Guardian, 11 January.

MULEYA, D 2002, "Independent Harare paper attacked: Private printing firm petrol-bombed" IN Business Day, Johannesburg, 12 February.

PETA, B 2002, "Viewpoint: Defying Mugabe's crackdown," IN BBC World News, 9 January.

PUBLIC ORDER AND SECURITY BILL 2001.

UNITED NATIONS 2001, "Press Release: UN experts concerned over reports of death threats against journalists in Zimbabwe", 24 August.

WORLD BANK GROUP 2000, "Country-At-A-Glance: Zimbabwe".