Offices of news production company are destroyed

New York, August 29, 2002—Unknown persons bombed the offices of the Voice of the People (VOP) Communications Trust yesterday morning. The private news production company, which has been producing shows since June 2000, was housed in a suburb of the capital city, Harare.

The explosion is the fourth such attack on the independent media in the last two years. Since 2001, the Daily News, Zimbabwe’s only independent daily newspaper, has been bombed three times.

According to several Zimbabwean and international reports, three men approached the VOP security guard outside the company’s headquarters at about 1 a.m. They told him not to put up a struggle, warning him that, “you don’t want to die for something you know nothing about.”

Two of the men then smashed the office’s windows and threw what appeared to be explosives inside the building. Soon after, there was an explosion and the entire building was razed to the ground.

Although no one was hurt in the explosion, all of the company’s equipment, including computers, office equipment, and production machines, was destroyed.

The VOP, which was founded by former employees of the state-owned Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), is an independent production company and does not broadcast directly within Zimbabwe. Instead, local VOP staffers produce programs on a variety of community and political issues and send them to a Radio Netherlands shortwave transmitter located in Madagascar.

The shows, all with the tag “Radio VOP: Voice of the People” are then relayed into southern Africa. VOP was created just before the run-up to the 1990 elections to counteract the state monopoly of broadcast news.

VOP’s independent stance and widespread audience has put it in opposition to the Zimbabwean government, which has accused VOP of “tarnishing” the country’s image. In July members of the Zimbabwean Police Force raided VOP’s offices, accompanied by officers of the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe. They searched the offices for a transmitter, broadcasting equipment, and other evidence that VOP was violating the Broadcasting Services Act of 2001, which bars stations from broadcasting without a license. (No licenses have been granted since the Act was passed.) The police did not find a transmitter, but confiscated 133 tapes and files from the office. The tapes and files were later returned.