Vincent Kahiya in Jo’burg and Gift Phiri in Harare
GOVERNMENT has set its sights on foreign newspapers circulating in the country, accusing them of trying to publish secretly in Zimbabwe and using unaccredit
Officials are making threatening noises about foreign publications including the Mail & Guardian, which they claim to be hostile to President Robert Mugabe’s government.
At the beginning of the week, the state controlled Sunday Mail – which usually mirrors the government’s views – published a story accusing the Mail & Guardian of using unaccredited journalists. The state weekly, quoting unnamed sources, also questioned why the Mail & Guardian was circulating in Zimbabwe when its major shareholder, Trevor Ncube, was running another paper – the Zimbabwe Independent.
The impression that the story was officialdom thinking aloud was given credence this week when MIC chairman Tafataona Mahoso, in remarks that appeared to represent a firming of his position since the weekend, described the Mail & Guardian as “unprincipled”.
He said the paper was violating Aippa by using unaccredited journalists.
“We have noticed that there are Zimbabwean journalists who are exporting stories to the Mail & Guardian’s foreign desk but who are not accredited with the Media and Information Commission,” said Mahoso.
“There are two offences here. Firstly, they are not registered with the MIC. Secondly they earn rands for publishing their stories.
“That money is not accounted for. So you see there is a forex question here and that of registration. It’s not only Aippa, even the RBZ (Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe) would be concerned,” he said.
Asked if there was any substance to the information that the Mail & Guardian could soon find itself in trouble with Zimbabwean authorities, Mahoso said: “You should contact the people who have that information. All I can say is that the Mail & Guardian is unprincipled because it is using unaccredited journalists.”
Mahoso had problems explaining who the complainant in this case was. “Are you knowledgeable about Aippa? If there is a violation of the law, then the commission institutes investigations. This story was in the Sunday Mail, a duly registered entity in Zimbabwe. Because the Sunday Mail has carried the story, it is a complainant. Besides, the commission can institute its own investigations. All foreign desks should be registered. Reuters, AFP and even the Chinese news agency Xinhuanet’s foreign desks are registered with the commission.”
Ncube on Wednesday said the Sunday Mail article was a good example of how the Zimbabwe government had over the past five years abused the state media to pursue narrow political agendas and to victimise perceived opponents.
“It is one example of how state-employed journalists have prostituted themselves to the political elite and done away with all pretence at professionalism,” said Ncube.
“The story is defamatory, malicious and highly irresponsible. It serves no public good at all. Its sole intention is to portray me and the Mail & Guardian in bad light and to help the Media and Information Commission build up a case against the paper.
“I am disappointed that MIC chairman Dr Tafataona Mahoso gave the story some respectability by commenting before verifying the veracity of the claims in the story,” he said Ncube said the M&G was not using unregistered journalists in Zimbabwe.
“What would be the point of doing this when we have our own pool of registered journalists at the Independent and the Standard? All we have are Zimbabwean-based columnists who contribute to the M&G which is distributed all over the world. We have no plans now or in future of publishing in Zimbabwe as claimed in the story.
“And for the record, we have turned around the Mail & Guardian in just under two years and our circulation is growing in both South Africa and the region as our audited circulation figures will attest.”
Meanwhile, Mahoso came under attack this week from the Tribune which accused him of displaying “dangerous ignorance of the law”.
Mahoso last week issued a statement to say out of the 20 000 ordinary shares held by the Tribune’s publishers only 100 had been issued. The MIC said the failure to issue the other 19 900 shares was one of the reasons it had used to close down the paper.
“Therefore, failure to produce board resolutions on the fate of the 19 900 shares was one among the several reasons for the cancellation of the licence,” the MIC said.
But the Tribune, in a statement last Sunday, shot back, accusing Mahoso of “dangerous ignorance of the law”.
“His fight against private media is not based on the laws of the land, which he does not understand, but on a sheer wish to repress independent voices,” the Tribune said in the statement.
“His failure to understand the difference between authorised and issued share capital is appalling to put it magnanimously.”
Mahoso flatly refused to comment on the Tribune press statement saying the case was sub judice.