26 April 2013

Zimbabwe: MMPZ Condemns Firing of Journalists Over Mugabe Origin Statements

Two journalists were last month fired from ZBC and Star FM for allegedly stating that President Robert Mugabe is of Malawian origin, the Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe (MMPZ) said in its latest report on information rights violations.

The MMPZ said ZBC radio and television presenter Hazvinei Sakarombe was suspended in early March for allegedly stating that the 89 year old leader is of "Malawian origin with his other surname being Matibiri." This apparently occurred during a broadcast to celebrate the president's birthday.

ZBC editor-in-chief Tazzen Mandizvidza is quoted saying Sakarombe was suspended for broadcasting "wrong information" about Mugabe, in contravention of "ZBC's work conduct and policy that does not allow false information about people to be aired".

Nonkululeko Vundla was reportedly forced to resign from the Zimpapers owned Star FM for also stating that Mugabe was of Malawian origin.

The MMPZ said: "The reports highlight the pitfalls of failure to fully disclose information about public officials resulting in speculation and the resulting unfair labour practice."

Political commentator Rejoice Ngwenya says Zimbabwe's media laws are some of the worst in Africa but said there is still a need to promote responsible journalism and differentiate between comedy and factual reporting.

"However if this was a free country, like in other developed countries, you could make jokes about Jacob Zuma, Nelson Mandela and about Barack Obama without necessarily being fired or arrested," Ngwenya said.

MMPZ noted several worrying cases of harassment and intimidation against journalists and civil society activists between December 2012 and March 2013, despite the inclusive government's pledge to promote freedom of expression.

The media watchdog recorded eight violations against the media during this period, including the police raid on Radio Dialogue where 180 radio sets were confiscated and the organisation's manager, Zenzele Ndebele, was arrested. They also noted the harassment of Newsday Features and Supplements editor Ropafadzo Mapimhidze, who was summoned to appear in a Masvingo court after she was accused of "telephonically abusing Chief Nhema by repeatedly calling him while following up on leads to reports that the chief allegedly orchestrated political violence in his area."

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