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Independent Media Still Struggling in Zimbabwe

Independent Media Still Struggling in Zimbabwe

Independent Media Still Struggling in Zimbabwe

The agreement that brought about Zimbabwe's unity government included provisions that required the government to license independent broadcasters and newspapers. But since the advent of the new government eight months ago no independent media licenses have been issued.

Under its freedom of expression and communication section, the so-called Global Political Agreement charges the government with processing license applications by all media.

But the Ministry of Information, charged with this function, is controlled by officials from President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party. In the eight months the troubled unity government has come into power, there have been no licenses issued to independent media, while the government has launched two publications. In addition, all internal broadcast media remains in the hands of the state.

Encouraged by the language of the agreement, media houses prepared to start newspapers.

Barnabas Tondhlana is the editor-in-waiting of the still to be licensed News Day. He has had his staff in place for months but awaits approval from the government to start publishing. Tondhlana told VOA the former ruling party Zanu-PF seems in no hurry to license any new publications.

"I think they are trying to close up the media space for their own titles so whoever comes in at a later stage will find the market awash with publications," he said.

The government has shrugged off such criticism, saying it cannot issue licenses until a new licensing authority is in place. However, this has not stopped the Ministry of Information from launching its own new newspapers.

Opening parliament earlier this month, President Robert Mugabe said the media commission that would issue licenses would be established soon.

The president of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, Matthew Takaona, believes such a commission will make a positive difference to the Zimbabwean media landscape.

"You look at the names of men and women who are there [on the commission] they have a reputation in the media, they are credible names and we think once they are appointed they will sit down to start opening up the media not for the good of any political party but for the good of Zimbabwean," he said."

The slow licensing process has not stopped a new weekly newspaper The News Leader from appearing on the streets. Printed in South Africa, it has taken advantage of the Minister of Finance's recent move to lift the 40 percent duty imposed on foreign newspapers.

The paper joins The Zimbabwean, which is published in Britain and printed in South Africa and has been selling in Zimbabwe for the past few years.