THERE is growing evidence of political pressure on Zimbabwe’s media with government stepping up its harassment of journalists at two of the country’s remaining private publications, the Zimbabwe
Independent and Standard.
Over the past week journalists from the two publications, both owned by Trevor Ncube, have been questioned by the police about stories published as far back as February. Both are the subject of civil litigation.
The Standard has also received threats from the Media and Information Commission to investigate the paper for publishing a photograph of President Mugabe hitching up his trousers which it claimed it had received complaints about.
In this case and in an earlier complaint to the Standard, the principal complainant was an official of the Department of Information in the Office of the President.
Independent editor Vincent Kahiya, reporter Augustine Mukaro, and group general manager Raphael Khumalo were picked up last Thursday over a report that assessors in the treason trial of MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai had blocked Judge President Paddington Garwe from handing down a judgement before they could review a transcript of the proceedings. The story was published on July 30.
Standard editor Bornwell Chakaodza was on Tuesday summoned to Harare Central police station to answer charges arising from a story published in February, which alleged that Pastor Admire Kasi had a licence to sell beer.
Meanwhile, Chakaodza was given until today by the MIC to submit the negative of the photograph of President Mugabe at the Harare Agricultural Show published on the front page of the Standard on August 29. It was taken with a digital camera.
MIC chairman Tafataona Mahoso, who writes for the Zanu PF organ, The Voice, claimed the MIC had received “numerous telephone complaints” about the photograph.
He enclosed a written complaint from “one of the 10 or so complainants”. It was from J Neusu in the Department of Information, writing on behalf of the “Secretary of State (for) Information and Publicity” who claimed the “use of the photograph by the Standard is extremely mischievous and represents a deliberate denigration of the highest office in the country”.
He went on to complain that “it epitomises the weekly newspaper’s editorial disposition that is underpinned by an anti-Zimbabwe and anti-Mugabe orientation. It is obvious that the paper seeks to foist on the nation an image of the President that will facilitate its regime change discourse.”
The photograph sought to “caricature, belittle and undermine the dignity of the Head of State”, the letter said.
Neusu in an earlier complaint to the MIC had complained that “reportage by the Standard and its sister paper, the Zimbabwe Independent, is characterised by outrageous lies and ridiculous claims underpinned by misrepresentation of facts…”
“Their aim is to push forward an anti-government and anti-Zimbabwe discourse,” he said. “If left unchallenged, such reportage would grow into a monster that threatens to unleash chaos and despondency amongst the reading public.”
Khumalo said recent police intervention amounted to harassment aimed at silencing the media group’s voice.
“We are surprised at the engagement of the police as all these cases are under litigation,” Khumalo said.
“A clear example is the Tsvangirai story which we were picked up for last Thursday. Justice Paddington Garwe had written to us through his lawyers complaining and asking for a retraction which implies that the case was being handled between the lawyers of the two parties.”
The Independent has maintained, through its lawyers, that Justice Garwe was not in any way defamed by the story.
Chakaodza said the complaints represented a new wave of attempts to silence the media.
“The complaints defy logic,” Chakaodza said.
“While we are not surprised by the reaction of the Department of Information to this award-winning photograph of the president, we are dismayed that freedom of the press is being circumscribed in this manner.
“Anyone with an elementary knowledge of journalism would have praised such a memorable photograph.”
Chakaodza said there was need to separate the state of Zimbabwe from the person of the president.
“We cannot see by any stretch of imagination how a picture of the person of the president in whatever situation can be said to be “anti-Zimbabwe,” he said.
Observers have questioned how the Law and Order section of the CID came to be involved in the Kasi case