29 January 2007

Zimbabwe: President's Politician Nephew Warns Against Formation of Independent Media Council Without Government Approval

On January 26 2007, a leading Zimbabwean politician warned journalists from forming an independent media council without the approval of the government, which has closed newspapers and arrested reporters.

Leo Mugabe, a nephew of President Robert Mugabe and a member of his ruling Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF), told about 200 journalists at a meeting to launch the council that they should avoid confrontation with the authorities.

The government introduced tough media laws five years ago, imposing state permits on local reporters and barring foreign journalists from working permanently in the country.

The voluntary media council is a bid to supervise and maintain professional and ethical conduct among journalists in the face of government charges that the media is unprofessional.

Zimbabwe's largest privately owned newspaper, the "Daily News", its sister Sunday paper and two weeklies were forced to close down after failing to comply with stringent provisions of the law, while dozens of reporters have been arrested on charges of violating the regulations.

"As the (parliamentary) portfolio committee on transport and communications, we support the idea of a voluntary media council . . . but it should be within the confines of the law, so that you do not have a structure that runs parallel to the media and information commission," said Leo Mugabe.

"What we should work on are amendments to AIPPA (Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act), so that this animal you want to create can be accommodated therein," he said.

"There should be no conflict in the process," he added.

Matthew Takaona, head of the journalists' union and chairperson of the steering committee pushing for the media council, had said it would be launched after outstanding constitutional and structural issues have been addressed.

Iden Wetherell, chairperson of the Zimbabwe editors' forum, insisted journalists should not be intimidated by Leo Mugabe and should close ranks.

"We are eager to broaden participation and engage our colleagues in the state media . . . as long as we agree on elementary things, such as the respect for freedom of expression and they should not celebrate the arrest of fellow journalists," he said.

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