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Zimbabwe Imposes License Fees on Media - 2002-06-16

On the same day three reporters were arrested while covering a political opposition meeting, the Zimbabwe government is forcing media outlets to start paying to stay in business. A special government order lays down a fee structure for the publishing industry.

Local publishers must find Z$500,000 for a license to continue operating.

Although local currency has slumped dramatically to an exchange rate of 600 to the U.S. dollar, the new license fees will still be hard to find for any domestic organization in Zimbabwe's present tough economic climate.

The license requirements apply to advertising agencies, public relations companies and any organization involved in public communications.

Sunday is also the deadline when all journalists, local and foreign, have to be accredited under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act signed into law a week after President Robert Mugabe's disputed election victory in March.

Trevor Ncube, publisher of two local newspapers, describes the fees as punitive and vindictive.

He says if he fails to register his publications, the government could ban them and seize the company's equipment. He says he will register, but under protest, and then seek relief from the courts.

Meanwhile, police used tear gas to break up a meeting organized by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). The meeting was called to commemorate the uprising in Soweto, South Africa, in 1976.

A police spokesman said about 80 people, mostly MDC youth members, were arrested. Among them were three journalists, one a freelancer and two from Zimbabwe's only independent daily newspaper, The Daily News.

And the trial resumes Monday of Andrew Meldrum, an American who is correspondent for the British newspaper, The Guardian. He is charged with publishing a falsehood and if found guilty could face up to two years in prison.

Another local journalist, Lloyd Mudiwa, will be tried on Thursday, charged with the same offense.

At least 11 journalists have been arrested on 22 charges since the media act was signed into law.