Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe: Improvement in press freedom depends on national unity government's ability to function properly

Reporters Without Borders has written to Tomás Salom=E3o, the executive secretary of the Southern African Development Community, on the eve of a SADC meeting in Maputo on the situation in Zimbabwe.

Voicing concern about the impact of the Zimbabwean government's internal crisis on the ability of journalists to work freely and the reemergence of an independent press, Reporters Without Borders urges the SADC and the leaders of Mozambique, Swaziland and Zambia to spare no effort to help the government emerge from the current deadlock.

Mr. Tomaz Salomao
Executive Secretary
Southern African Development Community
Gaborone - Botswana

Paris, 4 November 2009

Dear Executive Secretary,

On the eve of the SADC summit that you will be chairing in Maputo on the situation in Zimbabwe, Reporters Without Borders, an international press freedom organisation, would like to draw your attention to the terrible consequences that political deadlock in Zimbabwe could have on the work of the news media.

An increase in tension in the past three weeks between President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has already had a negative impact on the state of press freedom and could lead to serious reversals.

An Al Jazeera TV crew was detained for several hours at the president's office on 20 October, when the prime minister boycotted a cabinet meeting for the first time. Three days later, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation and several state-owned newspapers received orders from information minister Webster Shamu to stop covering the activities of government ministers who are MDC members.

Finally, a climate of fear has taken hold within the journalistic community as a result of recent arrests of civil society members.

Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe Media Council (ZMC), a new entity that is supposed to issue licences to newspapers and thereby facilitate the independent press's rebirth, is currently unable to function. Some sources say that, after long and delicate negotiations, the president and prime minister reached agreement on the ZMC's nine members but they have not yet been appointed and may not be if the crisis within the government continues.

An improvement in the ability of journalists to work freely and the reemergence of an independent press in Zimbabwe depend very closely on the national unity government's ability to function properly. Given the current tension between the two sides, we think regional mediation and the SADC's role will be decisive. We therefore urge you and the leaders of Mozambique, Swaziland and Zambia to spare no effort to help the government emerge from the current deadlock.

We trust you will give this request your careful consideration.

Sincerely,

Jean-François Julliard
Secretary-General