Government bans political TV program

New York, June 6, 2001 — A weekly television talk show was banned yesterday after only three broadcasts because callers criticized Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe.

On June 5, Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) chairman Gideon Gono wrote to the show’s sponsor saying that the live phone-in television program had been cancelled for “policy” reasons. The program, “Talk to the Nation,” was sponsored by a pro-government civic organization, the National Development Assembly (NDA).

Independent journalists in Zimbabwe charge that ZBC managers pulled the plug on “Talk to the Nation” because callers had been openly criticizing the government and asking for President Mugabe’s resignation. The cancellation came immediately after the program aired a heated exchange over Zimbabwe’s economy between an opposition lawmaker and a member of Parliament from the ruling ZANU-PF party.

The poor state of the economy had also prompted a flurry of criticism of the government by viewers.

In a June 6 article in the independent Daily News, an NDA officer, Kindness Paradza, was quoted as saying, “I do not know the reason for the action, but the best person to ask is Jonathan Moyo.”

Moyo, who was once a professor of political science and a frequent contributor to local and international publications, has been Zimbabwe’s information minister since June 2000. In this capacity, he has frequently clashed with the country’s small independent press. Critics allege that the order to cancel “Talk to the Nation” came from his office.

Before joining the government, Moyo was an impassioned critic of President Mugabe, as well as a defender of media freedom. In an article published four years ago, he described Zimbabwe’s government as “inept” and called Mugabe’s leadership “ineffectual,” sentiments similar to those expressed on the banned program.

In 1992, Moyo was quoted by the Inter Press Service complaining that Zimbabwean journalists “have been suppressed by the political system for so long that although they may want to write a lot, they find they cannot.” In yet another interview, he charged that “the president regards those who criticize him as enemies. He has not grasped the essence that opposition is as good as support.”

Moyo is currently being prosecuted for embezzlement in Kenya on a charge brought by the US-based Ford Foundation, for which he once worked as a consultant. As information minister, Moyo has control over the state-funded ZBC, which is Zimbabwe’s only broadcaster despite a Supreme Court ruling last year that declared the decades-old government monopoly over the airwaves unconstitutional.