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Zimbabwe3 February 2006

Journalists get renewed accreditation in exchange for retraction

The Media and Information Commission yesterday finally renewed the accreditation of the 15 journalists working for the privately-owned Zimbabwe Independent weekly, after forcing it to publish a retraction of an article about the commission that appeared last year.

Under Zimbabwe’s Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, a draconian law governing the country’s news media, it had been illegal for the 15 journalists to work since 27 January because the law stipulates that all journalists must be accredited with the commission.

30.01.2006 Accreditation blackmail and arrest threats used against independent journalists

Reporters Without Borders today condemned an attempt by Tafataona Mahoso, the head of the Media and Information Commission (MIC), to blackmail journalists working for the privately-owned Zimbabwe Independent weekly by refusing to issue them with work permits until their newspaper retracts an article questioning the MIC’s independence.

The organisation said it was also appalled by the state security minister’s threat to arrest journalists working for foreign news media, and accused the government of adopting an increasingly aggressive stance.

“Mahoso was personally criticised by one of the MIC board members and now he is determined to use blackmail to silence everyone who reports this,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The commission he heads, which was well known for being under the government’s thumb, is now functioning as his personal weapon.”

Reporters Without Borders added: “This episode should serve to dispel any remaining doubts in the international community that the MIC is a purely political tool in the hands of an aggressive government.”

The Zimbabwe Independent’s 15 journalists were turned away when they went to MIC headquarters yesterday in response to a summons to collect their accreditation. Under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), the draconian law governing the Zimbabwean press, journalists need MIC accreditation to be able to work, and their permits are reviewed every year.

By way of explanation, Mahoso told the Zimbabwe Independent journalists they should “just ask Raphael Khumalo,” referring to the newspaper’s chief executive. MIC officials said that, at a meeting in his office with acting editor Joram Nyathi, Mahoso had demanded that Khumalo should publish a retraction of an article that appeared late last year.

Like most of the independent press, the Zimbabwe Independent reported in late November that the MIC originally agreed to issue a licence to the owner of the Daily News and then changed its mind under pressure from the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO). The reports were based on a written statement by Jonathan Maphenduka, an MIC member who resigned in August in protest.

Two weeks ago, Mahoso threatened the management of the independent weekly Financial Gazette (FinGaz) with non-renewal of its licence if it did not publish a retraction. After initially refusing, FinGaz finally complied in its issue for the week of 23-29 January.

The 27 January issue of the governmental Manica Post weekly (which is based in the eastern city of Mutare) meanwhile published comments by state security minister Didymus Mutasa, who is in charge of the CIO, in which he warned journalists that “the net will soon close.” He said the government had identified the “closets” used by journalists who use pseudonyms to work for foreign media. He accused them of being “driven by the love of the United States dollar and British pound which they are paid by the foreign media houses to peddle lies.”

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