The Zimbabwean government said it intends to introduce a strict new law that would effectively ban foreign journalists from working in the country. Independent journalists are vowing to fight the legislation.
The state-run Herald newspaper said the cabinet has approved a stringent new measure called the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Bill. It is aimed at increasing government control over the news media.
The proposed bill still needs parliamentary approval before it becomes law. If passed, it will impose stiff fines and prison sentences for so-called violations of professional and ethical standards. Those standards will be imposed by a new government media commission.
The Herald said journalists will need to register with the commission every year. It can revoke their certification for what the paper calls "misconduct."
The newspaper also said all journalists working in the country will need to be Zimbabwean citizens.
During last year's parliamentary election, hundreds of foreign reporters descended upon Harare to cover the voting. That will apparently not be allowed under the new law. The move could severely limit the ability of international news organizations to cover next year's presidential elections.
Independent local journalists have roundly condemned the proposed legislation. The head of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, Basildon Peta, called it "the worst form of press muzzling anywhere." He said it is designed to keep journalists from writing anything the government does not like. Mr. Peta also called the law unconstitutional. He vowed to challenge it in court.
Trevor Ncube, the editor and publisher of the weekly Zimbabwe Independent newspaper, also vowed to fight the bill. He said newspaper executives will be meeting soon to plan their response.
Zimbabwe has recently been cracking down on the independent and foreign press, along with the political opposition. Last week, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe labeled six reporters, including Mr. Peta, as terrorists, accusing them of filing false stories on political unrest. They have denied those charges and stand by their stories.
Independent journalists have also been beaten up and threatened. A group of about 300 ruling party supporters marched through downtown Harare Friday to support the bill. They threw rocks at the offices of two independent newspapers, and attacked vendors selling the papers. One photographer was injured.
Earlier this year, a bomb destroyed the printing presses of the Daily News, the country's only independent daily. The bombing came just hours after Information Minister Jonathan Moyo vowed to shut the paper down.
In the last year, the government has deported three foreign reporters and denied accreditation to several more.