New York, February 28, 2005—Zimbabwe’s Media and Information Commission (MIC) has closed the independent regional newspaper Weekly Times after just eight weeks of publication, saying the newspaper violated the country’s media legislation, according to news reports. Local journalists believe the closing is part of a systematic clampdown on critical media in the run-up to parliamentary elections scheduled for March 31.
The government-controlled MIC cancelled the Weekly Times‘s publishing license for one year, saying it had misrepresented information on its application, in violation of the 2002 Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA). MIC Chairman Tafataona Mahoso said the Weekly Times had promised to make social issues a priority but had focused instead on political advocacy. The state-owned daily The Herald quoted Mahoso as saying that the paper’s reporting had been “narrowly political, clearly partisan and even separatist.”
One local source told CPJ that the Weekly Times, based in Zimbabwe’s second city Bulawayo, was considered a threat to the government because it covered economic and political problems and provided a platform for the airing of regional grievances. Weekly Times owner Godfrey Ncube said his newspaper had been closed for political reasons, and that he would appeal the decision in court, according to Agence France-Presse.
The Weekly Times is the fourth private newspaper to be closed down under AIPPA: the Daily News, the country’s only independent daily; the Daily News on Sunday; and the weekly Tribune have been closed within the past two years. In recent weeks, police harassment and threats forced three senior freelance journalists working for foreign news organizations to flee the country in fear for their security. A fourth freelance journalist, who was out the country when authorities sought him for questioning this year, has remained in exile.
“We deplore the closing of another independent source of information in Zimbabwe,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “The government’s repeated use of the repressive AIPPA and its harassment of reporters for foreign news organizations make clear that it intends to silence views and information that differ from its official version of events. The African and international communities should condemn this very unfortunate pattern.”