The Media Institute of Southern Africa, or MISA, says upcoming parliamentary elections in Zimbabwe will not be free and fair unless all media restrictions are lifted. Pamela Dube, editor of Kgosi, a daily newspaper in Botswana, was part of a MISA monitoring team which recently spent four days in Zimbabwe.
Miss Dube told a symposium in Johannesburg Wednesday that MISA had consulted with a wide range of journalists from Zimbabwe's state-run and privately owned newspapers, as well as with academics and analysts.
She said MISA concluded that the general elections set for next March will not be democratic without the repeal of several restrictive laws.
"Firstly, you have the legal framework which basically is very repressive for the media,? Miss Dube said. ?You have legislation like AIPPA, which is Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, and then you have POSA which is the Public Order and Security Act -- those are the main acts which are used today as weapons against the media in Zimbabwe. These two acts particularly, especially AIPPA, have ensured the closure of newspapers like the Daily News and now The Tribune, and there is the possibility of more and more newspapers being closed before the elections."
Miss Dube said all radio, television and daily newspaper outlets are controlled by the state. She says this one-sidedness distorts the news and puts undue pressure on journalists.
"There is desperation - if I may put it that way. They've reached a point where you get the sense that it's just a question of survival, it's a question of whether tomorrow I will have a job to go back to. It's a question of whether this story I'm writing is going to get me in trouble, will I land in jail today, would I be beaten up, all kinds of things. So they're working under very, very difficult conditions," Miss Dube said.
MISA is producing a special report on the state of the media in Zimbabwe, which will be widely distributed in the region.
Regional director Luckson Chipare says government officials canceled their meetings with MISA during its visit to Zimbabwe. He said MISA would try to persuade the Zimbabwe government to lift the restrictions of its media legislation.
The Zimbabwe government says it introduced media laws because some journalists were collaborating with western countries to undermine the present administration.