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Change Not Coming Soon Enough for Zimbabwean Journalists

As journalists the world over commemorate World Press Freedom day the difficult relationship between the Zimbabwean media and the government has eased somewhat. But talk by the new unity government of positive changes have not been matched by action.

Ever since the introduction of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act in 2002 Zimbabwe has been one of the world's most difficult places for journalists.

Detentions and beatings became routine and no one has been arrested for the murder of a journalist who was suspected of supplying some damning footage to the international media. Independent newspapers were banned and the government maintains a tight grip on the electronic media.

The new government of national unity has offered a glimmer of hope for a change for the better, and it has been making all the right noises. But Zimbabwe Union of Journalists president Matthew Takaona told VOA that although the former opposition Movement for Democratic Change is serious about reform, President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF would resist.

"There is an election hovering over their heads any time in the next 18 months and any election where there is a changed media landscape will be to the disadvantage of the ruling party, so therefore they will not allow these reforms to come soon," Takaona said.

Takaona conceded, however, that there has been a drop in the harassment of journalists and that dialogue with the unity government is ongoing. He said the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists will attend a government-convened media stakeholders meeting later this month, even though other media organizations are threatening to boycott the meeting.

"The thematic areas that are on the program are quite unpalatable [and] some of them are quite meaningless, more like poetic thematic areas. And one wonders what the ministry wants to achieve and I think that is one thing that has really disgusted a lot of stakeholders. But be that as it may, engagement is always good you have to engage then you move forward," said Takaona.

While noting that government-controlled newspapers and electronic media have toned down the rhetoric against perceived enemies, Takaona said overall major change seems to be some way off.