THE World Association of Newspapers (WAN) has written to President Mugabe imploring his government to release its grip on the media and the flow of information from within and outside Zimbabwe.
WAN represents 18 000 publications in 102 countries and has the World Editors Forum (WEF) as a partner.
The letter follows the imposition of a “luxury” tax on newspapers imported for distribution in Zimbabwe, mainly those produced and printed in South Africa.
The government has argued that the newspaper publishers were reaping “huge profits” from the sale of their publications in the country, with government being deprived of revenue through taxes.
In its letter to Mugabe, the newspaper association said it was important for the Zimbabwe government to release its grip on the media space so as to allow for the flow of diverse information and opinions.
“All foreign publications are now classed as luxury goods and therefore attract import duty at 40%. The tax appears to be particularly aimed at South African-based news sources, which have been extremely important to Zimbabweans,” WAN said.
It cited a case in which The Zimbabwean, a newspaper printed in South Africa and flown into Zimbabwe for circulation, was forced to pay US$20 000 to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) as import tax.
As a result of this “punitive tax”, the publishers of the newspaper have reduced its circulation to 60 000 copies.
“We respectfully call on you to remove the luxury tax on foreign publications and to end state intimidation of the independent media. We urge you to take all necessary steps to ensure that in future your country fully respects international standards of freedom of information.”
Munn Marketing, one of the companies affected by the clampdown, says there has been frustration over the distributorâ€™s efforts to import South African newspapers into the country.
Munn is the sole distributor of the Mail & Guardian, the Sunday Times, and the Sunday Independent, amongst an array of South African publications.
Munn managing director Tendai Mutseyekwa told the Zimbabwe Independent: “There has been a lot of frustration that we have been made to endure by the government following this imposition of tax on all foreign newspapers.
“70% of the cover price of all weekly newspapers, as a result of the new tax thresholds, are now going to the government while we have been forced to remain with only 30%. Business-wise, this is likely to affect our profitability and cash inflow levels and thus push us into a corner where planning becomes difficult,” said Mutseyekwa.
He added that besides the unprecedented tax levels, Zimra, acting at the behest of state security agents, had at times impounded newspapers for no apparent reason.
“The Sunday Times for instance, has been impounded by Zimra despite us paying the import tax at the point of entry for the newspapers,” he said. Zimra have not given us an explanation as to why the newspapers are impounded. This has happened in three consecutive weeks and we are wondering what exactly is happening.”
By NkululekoÂ Sibanda