The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) deplores the government-controlled Media and Information Commission’s (MIC) June 10 decision to suspend the private weekly The Tribune for one year. The Tribune is the second newspaper to be shuttered under Zimbabwe’s repressive Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA).
According to sources in Harare, on June 10, the MIC chairman, Tafataona Mahoso, said in a press statement that The Tribune would be closed for one year. The statement claimed that African Tribune Newspapers (ATN), the company that publishes The Tribune, had violated Section 67 of AIPPA by failing to notify the commission of changes in ownership, name, and frequency of publication. The statement also alleged that the newspaper had employed an unaccredited journalist. Under the AIPPA, all journalists must be accredited by the MIC to work.
Ownership of The Tribune changed hands in March, when the newspaper’s current management bought out the former owners. Publication frequency also changed in January when ATN merged its two weekly publications into one newspaper.
Local sources said that the provisions of AIPPA that address licensing issues are vague on how to inform the MIC of such changes. Tribune management told CPJ that the newspaper thought it had informed the MIC of the changes through advertisements that appeared in editions sent to the commission. In May, ATN provided the commission with further documentation of the changes. The newspaper’s management also said that the unaccredited journalist they allegedly employed was actually a consultant employed by The Tribune‘s previous owners.
Tribune publisher Kindness Paradza told CPJ he believes that the motives behind the paper’s closure are political. Paradza, a recently elected MP for the ruling ZANU-PF, criticized Zimbabwe’s media laws in parliament in March, saying that their restrictive nature was hampering investment in the sector and that they should be revised. In April, he was suspended from the Mashonaland West provincial chapter of ZANU-PF. Local journalists added that the closure might be a reprisal for several articles that The Tribune recently published that were critical of Information Minister Jonathan Moyo.
The closure of The Tribune comes four months after the Daily News, Zimbabwe’s only independent daily, and its sister paper, The Daily News on Sunday, ceased publishing on Feb. 6. The Daily News was forced to close after the MIC refused to license either the publication or its journalists in spite of two court orders directing it to do so.
As an organization of journalists dedicated to defending our colleagues worldwide, CPJ condemns your government’s closure of The Tribune and the Daily News. The formulation and application of AIPPA has been a transparent political effort to control and manipulate the Zimbabwean press. This suspension is but the latest example of your government’s intolerance of the independent press.
Over the past four years, Zimbabwe’s media environment has become continually worse for independent journalists. Your government has now not only shuttered two newspapers but also effectively banned independent foreign journalists from entering the country, driven other journalists into exile, and kept a stranglehold on all broadcast media. It is for these reasons that CPJ recently placed Zimbabwe on its list of the “World’s Worst Places to Be a Journalist.”
We call on you to allow The Tribune to reopen immediately and to cease harassing the independent press. We also urge you to repeal all provisions of AIPPA that give the government control over media licensing, and to ensure that all media are allowed to operate freely, without undue restrictions.
Thank you for your attention in this urgent matter. We await your reply.