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Zimbabwe Media Not Free as World Marks Press Freedom Day

The world comemmorates World Press Freedom Day Thursday and various media watchdogs say Zimbabwe remains one of the world's most difficult places to work for independent journalists. As Tendai Maphosa reports for VOA from London attacks on journalists continued with a new low reached earlier this year.

Zimbabwe has maintained its place on international media watchdogs' lists of the worst places to be a journalist.

Foster Dongozi, secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists says while things have been bad for the past few years, they took a turn for the worse with the abduction and murder of cameraman Edward Chikomba earlier this year for allegedly supplying international news organizations with footage of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai after his alleged assault while in police custody.

"That for me is the lowest point it does not matter whether that is the single media infringement that is done in one year, but for a journalist to be abducted and murdered in cold blood makes Zimbabwe no different from countries like Sierra Leone or Liberia during their height of their civil wars," he said.

Zimbabwe has always had an uneasy relationship with the independent media. But Dongozi says things took a turn for the worse 2002 when the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act came into law.

Criticized by rights organizations as an attempt to limit freedom of expression, it requires that publishing houses and journalists register with a government-appointed commission to operate in Zimbabwe. Failure to do so could mean a prison sentence for journalists. Four privately owned newspapers have been shut down for for allegedly breaking the law.

Journalist organizations in Zimbabwe have made numerous attempts to have the law repealed or amended. But, the new minister of information, Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, recently told journalists that the law is here to stay.

Zimbabweans go to the polls early next year and Dongozi sees things getting worse for journalists.

"Certainly as journalists begin to expose the interfering with constituencies, the use of food as an election winning gimmick, the manipulation of the voters roll, the manipulation of all electoral processes the government is likely to get very uneasy as journalists try to expose that," said Dongozi. "Certainly it is going to get uglier for journalists in Zimbabwe especially those operating in the privately owned media."

There are three privately owned weekly newspapers in Zimbabwe, but the government has maintained the monopoly on radio and television it inherited from the colonial government at independence in 1980.