Reporters Without Borders voiced dismay today at learning that Tafataona Mahoso, the head of the Media and Information Commission (MIC), recently threatened the weekly Financial Gazette (FinGaz), one of Zimbabwe's last independent news media, with withdrawal of its licence.
The threat was made after FinGaz refused to publish a note retracting a 1 December article questioning the independence of the MIC, which was set up to monitor and regulate the Zimbabwean media and which has proved to be under the control of the government and the intelligence agencies.
"The MIC has closed down four newspapers in three years, and clearly takes its order from the most senior members of the government," Reporters Without Borders said. "Reduced to functioning as branch of the police, the MIC continues to impose the law of silence, especially when a newspaper dares to criticise it. As the African Union has apparently decided to try to loosen the vice-like grip on Zimbabwe's press, it should not let one of the last independent publications be shut by Robert Mugabe's and Mahoso's thought tribunal."
FinGaz editor Sunsleey Chamunorwa and his deputy, Hama Saburi, were ordered to report to MIC headquarters during the week of 9-13 January. The MIC is currently carrying out its annual reexamination of newspaper licences and journalists' accreditation, and Mahoso threatened to withdraw FinGaz's licence.
On 8 December, the MIC had ordered FinGaz to retract a report published the previous week that the MIC originally agreed to grant a licence to the owner of the now closed Daily News and then changed its mind under pressure from the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO). In its letter to FinGaz, the MIC said it would choose the journalist who wrote the retraction. The newspaper refused to comply, and there was no mention of the incident in the following issues, published on 15 December and 5 January.
These threats have come at time when information minister Tichaona Jokonya has announced that Zimbabwe's draconian press laws are to be amended. The decision was taken after the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR), an African Union offshoot, issued a resolution on 5 December accusing Zimbabwe's legislation of violating basic rights and civil liberties.