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Allegations of Secret Funding to Three Zimbabwe Newspapers

Two major Zimbabwe newspaper groups have been accused of receiving covert funding from state security agents. The allegations were published by the country's only fully independent newspaper company.

In its latest edition, the weekly Zimbabwe Independent reported in detail on what it said were the means used by the Central Intelligence Organization to substantially and secretly fund three newspapers. The CIO, as it is known, has allocated about $65 million annually out of funds designated for the office of President Robert Mugabe. Those funds are never audited by parliament.

The three newspapers are the weekly Financial Gazette, The Daily Mirror, and its sister Sunday publication. The Financial Gazette was a fully independent newspaper until three years ago when it was taken over by a government supporting group. The Mirror group has always been owned by a group sympathetic to the ruling party.

The Zimbabwe government publicly funds or controls some newspapers in Zimbabwe, such as The Herald. But until the revelations by the Independent it was widely accepted that the three publications in question, were fully privately funded.

Director Andrew Moyse of the Media Monitoring Project, which observes and analyzes Zimbabwean media, said the three publications have in the past three years published reports largely favorable to the ruling ZANU-PF party.

He said that the two Mirror group newspapers do not have enough advertising or circulation to survive in Zimbabwe's hyper-inflationery economic situation where production costs are soaring, and that they would have needed additional funding.

Editor Sunsleey Chuminorwa of the Financial Gazette, which was sold three years ago to associates of central-bank Governor Gideon Gono, said the accusations are untrue and he will publish a rebuttal Thursday.

The owner of the Mirror Group Ibbo Mandaza, a long-time supporter of Zanu-PF also denies the allegations and said he operates on a bank overdraft which was granted him by Mr. Gono when he was running a commercial bank.

Former information minister Jonathan Moyo told VOA he was shocked to learn of the covert funding that allegedly took place during his tenure in office and said he would investigate the accusations. Mr. Moyo is now an unaligned member of parliament.

As information minister oversaw tough new media laws which required all media and journalists to obtain accreditation by a government appointed media commission.

The highest circulation newspaper, The Daily News, and several smaller weeklies were banned from publishing in the past two years because they were denied accreditation by Mr. Moyo's commission. Scores of journalists were arrested, deported or forced into exile under the laws he designed.

Zimbabwe Advertising Practitioners Association Chairman Alistair Carlisle said advertisers continued to do business with state-controlled media, sometimes because there was no alternative, but that the political loyalties of that media were public knowledge.

He said all advertisers expected professionalism and transparency from the media houses, and that he had been surprised at the recent revelations over secret funding of the three newspapers which had claimed to be independent.

Mr. Gono and Nicholas Goche, state security minister until four months ago, declined to comment on allegations that they had been party to the covert funding of the three newspapers.

Zimbabwe has two newspapers that claim to be independent, The Independent and its stablemate, The Standard. Both are weeklies with limited circulations, because they are unaffordable for Zimbabwe's increasingly poor population.

Besides newspapers, the state owns and controls the only television station and all four radio stations.