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Zimbabwe26 March 2008

Government bars many international news media from covering 29 March elections

Reporters Without Borders condemns the Zimbabwean government’s refusal to allow several leading international news media to cover the 29 March general elections although it has signed international conventions that require it to guarantee “total access to national and international media.”

“The 29 March poll has again been marred by authoritarian measures and irregularities,” Reporters Without Borders said. “When they have taken stock of these latest developments, the international observers accepted by the government will not be able to pretend that the circumstances surrounding the elections were fine. It is clear that press freedom, at least, has not been guaranteed, which is a serious flaw for elections that are supposed to be democratic.”

Presidential spokesman George Charamba announced on 24 March, five days ahead of the poll, that a government committee set up to examine requests from international media for accreditation to cover the elections had refused most of the requests. “We are mindful of attempts to turn journalists into observers and security personnel from hostile countries,” Charamba had previously said.

The main news media to be rebuffed are the British state broadcaster, the BBC, the American TV networks CNN and MSNBC, the South African broadcaster E-tv, the London-based dailies The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph, and South Africa’s Independent Newspapers Group.

The government has granted accreditation to the state-owned South Africa Broadcasting Corporation but has forbidden it to use its own satellite transmission equipment. It must instead use equipment provided by Zimbabwe’s state-owned broadcaster, ZBC.

As regards international news organisations that are already accredited in Zimbabwe, which including Reuters, Agence France-Presse, the Associated Press and the Qatar-based satellite TV station Al-Jazeera, Charamba said the committee took a “sympathetic view” to their requests to send additional support staff for the elections but he warned that their bureau chiefs would be held “fully accountable” for their behaviour.

Zimbabwean journalists have also been banned from covering the elections. Freelance journalist Hopewell Chin’ono, winner of this year’s “Desmond Tutu Leadership Fellowship,” was told by the electoral commission on 11 March that his accreditation request had been turned down on the instructions of the government-controlled Media Information Commission (MIC), which has put him on a blacklist although he has MIC accreditation valid until the end of the year.

The Southern African Development Community’s “Principles and Rules Governing Democratic Elections,” which Zimbabwe signed in 2004, require member states to guarantee “total access to national and international media” during elections.

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