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Zimbabwe Still a Difficult Place for Media Despite Improvements


The annual Reporters Without Borders index says Zimbabwe's media lies in ruins and that life has become impossible for independent journalists. Tendai Maphosa reports for VOA from Harare.

The 2008 report of the Paris-based media lobby group says there were fewer press violations in 2007, because it says there are not many journalists left to arrest. It adds the few privately-owned publications that still appear, do so under tight surveillance.

The report lists cases of Zimbabwean journalists arrested for doing their work during 2007. It mentions the disrupted prayer meeting when opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was arrested and brutally beaten up by the police.

Free-lance cameraman Edward Chikomba was found dead two weeks after the Tsvangirai beating. He was accused of being responsible for selling footage of a bruised and battered Tsvangirai to the international media.

The report says although amendments to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act have liberalized the media environment in Zimbabwe, the state continues to harass those it describes as agents of the West.

Zimbabwe Union of Journalists president, Matthew Takaona, tells VOA the amendments to the Act, which became law in 2002 did not stop the harassment of journalists during the election campaigns earlier this year. He conceded things have eased somewhat since the June 27 presidential election runoff and the signing of the power-sharing agreement last month.

He says, for instance, journalists do not have to apply for a license to go about their work. Prior to the amendments, a journalist who operated without a license risked a two-year jail term. The license may not be a requirement anymore, but Takaona says there is a catch.

"You cannot access public places like government functions if you do not have an accreditation card, but anywhere else you can practice," he said.

Another amendment abolishes the Media and Information Commission, which regulated the activities of the media since 2002. The government appointed commission was responsible for issuing licenses to journalists and media organizations. In its place will be a media commission, which is still to be set up by parliament.

Takaona says his union does not see this as an improvement.

"The media commission can be just another Media and Information Commission because it will be one of the arms of government that can be used to regulate the media we have said as the necessary for the media in any democratic society to be regulated by the state or by government but there must be self regulation. So it might still be the same Media and Information Commission but in a different jacket," he said.

Since the passing of the Access to Information and Privacy Act, newspapers have been banned and there are no independent dailies in Zimbabwe. The government also has a monopoly on the electronic media.

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