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Zimbabwe <i>Daily News'</i> Editor Fired - 2003-01-01

Zimbabwe's only independent daily newspaper, The Daily News, is back on newsstands Wednesday after an absence of more than a week. But the founding editor of the paper, one of best-known journalists in the country, has been fired from his job.

Geoff Nyarota said he was sacked because the paper's managers accused him of trying to undermine their authority in a dispute with the paper's staff.

Editorial and production staff at The Daily News went on strike toward the end of December. Mr. Nyarota says the paper's owners were angry with him because he went to private sources to get money to give the staff of the paper an advance on their salaries for the Christmas holiday.

The strikers were seeking a 150 percent increase in pay in an effort to help them keep up, at least partially, with the country's inflation, now estimated to be nearly 200 percent a year.

The strike now appears to be over, though it is not known if the newspaper staff won an increase in pay.

The managers of the company that owns The Daily News will not discuss why Mr. Nyarota was fired. His deputy, Davison Maruziva, was asked to take over as acting editor, but he refused to do so and resigned from the paper out of loyalty to his fired boss.

In a country where most of the media are government controlled, Mr. Nyarota has insisted on his right to criticize the government and its president, Robert Mugabe. His stance has earned him the hostility of the government but praise from defenders of a free press. His awards include the World Press Freedom prize from UNESCO, the cultural branch of the United Nations.

Mr. Nyarota was arrested and charged several times under legislation brought into force ahead of Mr. Mugabe's re-election last March.

Under the legislation, every media organization and journalist in Zimbabwe was required to register with a government commission by the end of December.

Several well-placed sources in the independent press have speculated that The Daily News management feared the government would not allow the newspaper to be registered while Mr. Nyarota remained as editor.

The government says the legislation is meant to, in the words of one official, introduce "ethical behavior" in the private media, which the Mugabe government regularly accuses of participating in a Western propaganda campaign against it.

Several other journalist organizations have challenged the law on constitutional grounds, but the supreme court is yet to rule.