Government imposes harsh licensing fees on journalists

New York, June 19, 2002—The Zimbabwean government has announced restrictive new licensing fees for journalists and media organizations.

The announcement comes after the March passage of the contentious Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, under which Andrew Meldrum, a U.S. citizen and the Zimbabwe correspondent for the London-based Guardian, is currently being tried for “publishing falsehoods.” (read alert of June 11, 2002.)

According to the government’s announcement, after June 16 companies must be registered with the Media and Information Commission in order to run a newspaper, radio or television station, or an advertising agency.

The members of the commission, which was created under the Information and Privacy Act, are hand-picked by Information Minister Jonathan Moyo. Although one of the commission’s stated objectives is “to foster freedom of expression in Zimbabwe,” the group is also endowed with enormous powers to control, license, and accredit journalists and can refuse to register newspapers and members of the media.

Journalists must first pay to register with the government as a member of the press, and must then pay another fee to get accreditation to work. The new regulations are expected to put enormous financial strain on independent media outlets, which must now pay to register and accredit every journalist on their staffs.

Media organizations must pay an application fee to register with the government. Once the applications have been accepted, news outlets must pay another fee to be accredited.

• Zimbabwean journalists must pay Z$1,000 (US$18) and Z$5,000 (US$93) for an application and one-year accreditation, respectively.

• Free-lance journalists must pay Z$500 (US$9) and Z$2,500 (US$46) for an application and one-year accreditation, respectively.

• Local journalists working for foreign media organizations must pay US$50 and US$1,000 for an application and one-year accreditation, respectively.

• Foreign journalists intending to work temporarily in Zimbabwe are required to pay US$100 and US$500 for application and accreditation, respectively.

• Media owners must pay an application fee of Z$20,000 (US$373) and an accreditation fee of Z$500,000 (US$9,340.56).

• Foreign media houses must pay US$2,000 for the application and US$10,000 for accreditation, payable only in foreign currency.

Accreditation for media organizations is valid for two years. Journalists, who need only register once, must reapply for accreditation once a year.

The fees come at a time when the average annual income for Zimbabweans is US$460 per year, and when the country is facing famine and inflation of more than 120 percent.