Zimbabwe: Government drags heels on private broadcast licenses

October 2, 2000

President Robert Mugabe
Office of the President
Munhumutapa Building
Samora Machel Avenue/ 3rd Street
Harare, Zimbabwe

VIA FAX: 011-263-4-708-820

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) welcomes the recent Supreme Court decision to allow private broadcasting in Zimbabwe. We urge you to implement the Court’s ruling with all possible speed.

On September 22, the Court declared that the state broadcasting monopoly mandated by Section 27 of the Broadcasting Act was inconsistent with Section 20 of the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression. The ruling came in response to a suit filed against Your Excellency’s government by the private broadcasting company Capital Radio Limited, challenging the legality of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC)’s monopoly.

In its decision, the Court explicitly recognized Capital Radio’s right to broadcast by ruling that the company was entitled to “import and utilize broadcasting equipment.” Despite this unambiguous decision from the highest court in the land, Jonathan Moyo, the minister of state for information and publicity, has announced that the ZBC will continue to be the only licensed broadcaster until the government establishes a regulatory framework for new stations.

The ZBC has come under intense criticism for biased reporting that usually favors Your Excellency, the ruling ZANU-PF party, and other political organizations and individuals with close links to you. During the recent election campaign, the Supreme Court issued an interim order compelling the ZBC to cover the news “impartially and without discrimination on the basis of political opinion and without hindering persons in their right to impart and receive ideas and information.”

Your government’s foot-dragging response to the court ruling is part of a disturbing trend of using (or misusing) the legal system to intimidate anyone who opposes ZANU-PF and its policies. In a previous letter to Your Excellency, for example, we drew your attention to the deeply problematic new Post and Telecommunications Bill, which Parliament passed on March 8 after a cursory public debate.

The new bill flouts international freedom of expression norms in that it gives Your Excellency unlimited powers to monitor and censor communications in all media, including the Internet. This bill would clearly inhibit the ability of journalists in Zimbabwe to work freely, since reporters and their sources must be able to communicate in confidence. We therefore urge Your Excellency not to sign the Post and Telecommunications Bill, and to use the powers of your office to ensure that private media are able to exercise their constitutional right to broadcast without state interference.

Thank you for your attention to these important matters. We await your comments.


Ann K. Cooper
Executive Director