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Zimbabwean Journalist Receives Press Award - 2002-10-29


The editor of the weekly Zimbabwe Independent newspaper, Iden Wetherell, has been named Editor of the Year by the New York-based World Press Review. The organization calls Mr. Wetherell a courageous journalist who struggles under difficult conditions to give his readers an honest perspective.

The World Press Review says the Harrare-based Zimbabwe Independent is one of a handful of media outlets to challenge what it calls the misperceptions spread by Zimbabwe's state-run press. But it says, journalists such as editor Iden Wetherell, face harsh censorship laws passed earlier this year under President Robert Mugabe's government.

In the past year, Mr. Wetherell along with thirteen other independent journalists in Zimbabwe have been arrested and charged with "abusing journalistic privilege."

Speaking at an awards ceremony held at the United Nations, Mr. Wetherell says that despite the many challenges they face, the journalists are not the story. "We are not inclined to complain too much about those conditions or make ourselves the center of any particular sympathy when the people of Zimbabwe themselves are subject to much worse abuse."

Mr. Wetherell says he tries to expose the reality of the conditions the people of Zimbabwe live under. Millions of Zimbabweans are in danger of starvation and thousands of black farm workers have lost their homes and jobs because of Mr. Mugabe's land distribution plan.

Mr. Wetherell, who is white, says that although land reform must be addressed in Zimbabwe, he accuses Mr. Mugabe of claiming to redress the wrongs of colonialism by seizing land for his cronies. More than 100 black Zimbabweans and 13 white farmers have been killed.

The "Zimbabwe Independent" is available internationally on the internet. It has a reported 250,000 readers a week. Mr. Wetherell says he tries to provide a public forum for Zimbabweans, who have been robbed of democracy, particularly after intimidation and irregularities underscored Zimbabwe's most recent presidential election. "We see our role essentially of supporting the right of the people to criticize the government, to hold it accountable in terms of its record on governance," he says. "We see our role not simply as holding up the mirror in terms of accountability but in terms of providing a forum of debate so that the Zimbabwean people can contribute through the media to policies formulated for their social and economic improvement."

A representative of the United Nations Secretary General for Internally Displaced People, Francis Mading Deng, presented Mr. Wetherell with the award. He says that accountability and the freedom of expression is badly needed in many African nations. "Now the problem is, responsibility implies accountability and accountability has to be both national and global and to do that you need information," he says. "You need an independent and free press in order to inform the world about what goes on. That is the context in which we celebrate what Iden has done and what the World Press Review does."

"The World Press Review," a monthly magazine that focuses on the international media, has recognized editors outside of the United States who work to advance freedom of the press and human rights under difficult conditions, since 1975.