Zimbabwe: Emerging media

Updated February 2002

Clicking on www.swradioafrica.com [opens new window] one can access Jerry Jackson's Radio Station SWRA live web-cast, which features issues as sensitive as citizenship, land reform, voter education and law and order. This is a type of service that eludes the government's proposed new media control measures. Jerry Jackson's site alone has featured 170 000 visitors in the month of January 2002.

Similarly the Financial Gazette's Online Edition - the most widely read Zimbabwean newspaper - records more than one million hits every month according to the newspaper. Besides, several other local newspapers such as the Daily News, The Herald, The Independent and the Sunday Mail have adopted modern publishing technology, including online editions. In fact, in June 2001 even ZBC Radios 2 and 3 went live on the Internet.

In Zimbabwe, the figure of 30 000 Internet users might barely compare with the 300 000 of Egypt or the 1.82 million of South Africa in 2000, 9 million of France and 2.7 million of Belgium (a country with comparable population) (CIA 2001). Yet, the use of the Web has indeed swept through Africa allowing circulation and exchange of information.

The Internet, according to Freedom House, represents the best 'surrogate of a censored media' (Freedom House 2000a, 2000b). It has also been argued that the impact of electronic media on democratisation will carry an added value particularly in the developing world because its interactive component will be crucial in forwarding an element of immediacy in political participation. This could be true particularly where no other channels are available.

Dana Ott points out to the fact that a significant percentage of Africans will be unable to use the Internet directly in the near future. "What is perhaps more important for Africans is the presence of alternative sources of information (such as independent radios) which have the capacity to disseminate knowledge from the Internet to a broader audience", she claims (Ott 1995).

In Zimbabwe, not only access, but also audiences might constitute the most consistent hindrance to freedom of expression sweeping through Internet Services. In fact, if the opposition is widely seen as representing a young generation of Zimbabweans and urban workers, who are also most likely to access Internet Services, the so-called cyber dissidence will be preaching to the converted, leaving out the mainly rural constituencies, which constitute Mugabe's caucus of support.

Apart from infrastructure limitations, legislative hurdles are the second best in barring the spread of Internet technology. In Zimbabwe, legal disincentives to foreign investment have already been put in place on the premises discussed above. In addition, the Post and Telecommunications Act was promulgated to inhibit the right of access to information, in the interests of national security or the maintenance of law and order. According to Section 98 (2) (b), the President alone can give orders to intercept and monitor any class of communications, transmitted by means of a cellular communication or telecommunication service (Weza 2001).

References

CIA 2001, "World Fact-book 2001: Zimbabwe Profile".

FREEDOM HOUSE 2000a, Press Freedom Survey 2000.

FREEDOM HOUSE 2000b, Censor dot gov: The Internet and press freedom.

OTT, D 1995, Power to the people: The role of electronic media in promoting democracy in Africa.

WEZA, S 2001, "Zimbabwean media in crisis: Issues and challenges," IN Communications Law in Transition Newsletter, 2(3), 18 February.