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Zimbabwe

Key Developments

» New constitution guarantees free expression, but repressive laws are left intact.

» Authorities crack down on radios, favored medium of communication in rural areas.

Though general elections in July took place in a significantly more peaceful atmosphere than the 2008 vote, the news media remained dominated by state-owned outlets. Journalists and human rights defenders were frequent targets of physical attacks and brief detentions in the months leading up to the election, which renewed the 33-year grip on power of 89-year-old President Robert Mugabe, giving the ruling party a two-thirds majority which could allow it to make changes to the country's recently approved constitution. No journalists were detained at the time of the elections, but an observer mission of Southern African editors failed to receive media accreditation ahead of the vote. Authorities maintained a tight hold on radio, the principal means of communication for Zimbabweans, most of whom live in rural areas. Though two commercial, urban-based stations were licensed in mid-2012, community radio stations were blocked from the air, and calls for the licensing of additional commercial licenses fell on deaf ears. Despite new constitutional provisions that guarantee media freedom and civil liberties, repressive laws such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the Public Order and Security Act, and the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, remained on the books.



  • 186

    Radios confiscated
  • 17

    Journalists detained
  • 4

    Attacks in one month
  • 0

    Changes to media laws
 

In the months leading up to the July elections, authorities announced a ban on "specially designed radios" and confiscated at least 186 radios. The police also arrested Zenzele Ndebele, community radio activist and editor of Radio Dialogue, on charges of smuggling hand-cranked, solar-powered radios into the country.

Radio in Zimbabwe is almost exclusively state-controlled. Radio Dialogue distributes its programs on CD and flash drives through community networks. A number of alternative radio stations, including SW Radio Africa, Studio 7, and Voice of the People, broadcast into the country on shortwave transmitters located elsewhere in the region.


Managing the airwaves:

April 18, 1980

Zimbabwe gains independence, but preserves state control of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corp., which owns all radio and television stations.

October 1, 2000

Independent station Capital Radio, based in Harare, breaks ZBC's 20-year monopoly and goes on the air. Five days later, the police shut it down, despite a court order upholding its right to broadcast.

2007

Organizers of Capital Radio, now based in London, begin broadcasting from the U.K. under the name "Short Wave Radio Africa."

November 24, 2011

The Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe awards two commercial radio licenses to talk radio Star FM and music radio Zifm—both of which have ties to the Zimbabwe government. But the number of transmitters, and the broadcast reach the transmitters have, limits access to major urban areas.

June 25, 2012

Star FM is launched. It is owned by Zimpapers, a government company, but airs live debates between opposing political parties for the first time.

August 15, 2012

Zifm, owned by AB Communications, is launched. Its CEO is Supa Mandiwanzira, a former ZBC journalist and provincial official in the ruling Zanu-PF party.

July 31, 2013

Mandiwanzira is elected to parliament as a Zanu-PF candidate. Two months later, he is appointed the deputy minister of information of media and broadcasting services.
 

At least 17 journalists were detained by police and local authorities over the year, according to news reports and CPJ research.


Details of some detentions:

March 1, 2013

Zenzele Ndebele, editor of Radio Dialogue, is detained, then released and charged with smuggling radios. After Ndebele says that he was giving the radios away, the prosecutor drops the smuggling charges. Police say they will look for an alternative charge to file, but no charges had been filed by late year.

April 26, 2013

Dumisani Muleya, editor of the private Zimbabwe Independent, and Owen Gagare, the paper's chief reporter, are detained for seven hours and charged under Section 31 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act for publishing "false statements prejudicial to the state." Police cite a story published in the paper that described behind-the-scenes discussions between military leaders and an opposition party. The case had not gone to trial in late 2013.

June 21, 2013

Reporters Cynthia Matonhodze (NewsDay), Peter Matambanadzo (The Herald), Innocent Makawa (The Herald), Wendy Muperi (The Daily News), and Wonai Masvingise (NewsDay) are briefly detained while covering a protest by Zanu-PF supporters. They are forced to delete their pictures and are subjected to verbal abuse, according to a report from the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists.

July 10, 2013

Masvingo Mirror photographer Leopold Munhende is detained for nine hours after taking photographs of the voter registration process at the Registrar General's Offices. He is charged with being a public nuisance under the Miscellaneous Offences Act. No further legal action had been taken in late 2013.

July 30, 2013

Police arrest Emmy Maseko, a reporter for Radio Kwelaz, question him, and charge him with contravening the notorious Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. Two of the station's board members, Paul Gundani and Howard Masaninga, are also detained. All are later released. The journalists had not been summoned to court in late 2013.
 

In June, amid mounting political tension, at least four journalists came under physical attack.


Breakdown of attacks:

June 6

Mashudu Netsianda, reporter for the state-owned Chronicle, is manhandled by unidentified assailants while covering a meeting between Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and businessmen in Bulawayo.

June 7

Herbert Moyo, a reporter for the private Zimbabwe Independent, is assaulted by youths as he reports on a protest by members of the MDC party against the choice of candidate for their constituency, according to news reports.

June 8

Bernard Mapwanyire, a reporter for the private Masvingo Mirror, is roughed up by unidentified people while covering MDC-T primary elections.

June 14

Freelance journalist Paul Pindani is abducted from his home and beaten by three masked assailants in north central Mashonaland West province. He is hospitalized for his injuries.
 

After the violence-marred 2008 elections and Zanu-PF's refusal to cede power, the Global Political Agreement of 2008 was created between Zanu-PF and opposition parties to prepare legitimate elections and establish a commitment to media reform over the next five years.

Some reforms were never implemented, and the July 31, 2013, election took place in a skewed media environment that failed to provide free and fair coverage to all parties.


A glance at the numbers:

Section 61

of the new constitution that was signed into law in May enshrines freedom of expression and the right "to seek, receive, and communicate ideas and other information." It also stipulates that all state-owned media must "be impartial; and afford fair opportunity for the presentation of divergent views and dissenting opinions."

6 media organizations

including the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists and the national editors' forum, condemned the repressive media environment ahead of the July 31 elections and called for the "genuine opening up of the airwaves and a nonpartisan public service media."

7 laws

that limit media freedom:

• Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act
• Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act (sections on defamation and insult)
• Broadcasting Services Act
• Censorship and Entertainment Controls Act
• Public Order and Security Act
• Interception of Communications Act
• Official Secrets Act
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