ZIMPAPERS, which now operates almost exclusively as a government propaganda mouthpiece, has embarked on drastic cost-cutting measures by clearing sit-in correspondents and freezing recruitme
nt of new staff.
Zimpapers’ cost-cutting strategy came amid rising concern over the use of the group’s flagship daily, the Herald, by President Robert Mugabe’s spokesman George Charamba to attack foreign heads of state and people he does not like.
Highly placed sources at Zimpapers – which runs 10 publications – said management last week resolved to implement sweeping measures at a time when the cost of producing newspapers is soaring. Sit-in correspondents, students on attachment and stringers have been told to leave.
“Out of more than 14 students and sit-in correspondents at different publications only two remain. The rest have left,” an inside source said.
The source said management also resolved to freeze recruitment in all departments, reduce the number of direct telephone lines, cut fuel allocations to management by half and decrease the print runs of the stable’s struggling publications.
“The state of affairs is critical and management is trying to reduce costs. The situation is worsened by the fact that a number of our publications have not been making any profit,” the source said.
“Some of the papers were being financed from profits generated by other papers. The cover prices alone could not meet the increased printing costs.”
Zimpapers has increased the cover prices of its flagship Herald, Sunday Mail, Chronicle, Sunday News, Manica Post, Kwayedza, Umthunywa, New Farmer, Trends and Zimbabwean Travel with effect from today.
Juts like other media houses, Zimpapers cited steep increases in input and production costs, especially newsprint, inks, printing plates, labour and fuel.
Herald editor Pikirai Deketeke would not comment on the issue, saying he was in a meeting.
Charamba has reportedly been using the Herald’s anonymous Nathaniel Manheru column to abuse those he does not agree with.
The most prominent victims of Charamba’s vituperation have been Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, South African President Thabo Mbeki, Zimbabwe Independent and Standard publisher Trevor Ncube, Zanu PF newspaper editor Lovemore Mataire, and Independent MP Jonathan Moyo who, ironically, is said to be the founder of the column.
Moyo recently said Charamba was the author of the column. He described the presidential spokesman as Mugabe’s “reckless and irresponsible wordsmith”.
Charamba hit back against Moyo whom he linked with the debate on the “Third Force”, suggesting it was a hopeless initiative.
After attacking Obasanjo, Mbeki, Moyo and Ncube, Charamba last week took his attacks to new levels against Mataire by insulting the journalist in vicious personal terms.
Mataire said he would not respond to Charamba’s “malicious attacks”.
“I can’t dignify those scurrilous remarks against me by responding to them as if they were serious points of constructive engagement on an issue of public interest and debate,” Mataire said.
“But I find it obnoxious that a public and national paper like the Herald can be used as a weapon for character assassinations. It’s repugnant in the extreme.”
The issue, which is part of the battle for control of information between the Zanu PF and government propaganda departments, has raised grave concern among ruling party leaders who were said to have been angered by Charamba’s attacks.
“There is serious concern about Charamba’s conduct in government and Zanu PF circles,” a source said. “Officials are wondering how a presidential spokesman, permanent secretary and senior civil servant could do such unprofessional things like writing an abusive column with no information value whatsoever.”
Observers say even under Moyo, the Manheru column was mostly about insulting people, not raising serious debate on relevant issues. But some say it has now got worse under Charamba who uses it as a platform for personal vendettas.