February 13, 2009
Mr. Morgan Tsvangirai
44 Nelson Mandela
Dear Prime Minister,
The decision to form a unified government in Zimbabwe has created a welcome opportunity to address oppressive government decrees and media laws that have long stifled press freedom. Your party, the Movement for Democratic Change, has long made freedom of the press a central policy and you have repeatedly stated your aspirations to privatize the state-controlled media.
The daily newspapers in Zimbabwe were put under state control in 1982 and the ZANU-PF ruling party holds a monopoly on radio and television broadcasting. The handful of independent weeklies that still exist are stifled by high production costs as well as exorbitant customs duties on the import of newspapers that have been printed outside of the country.
Right now, a freelance journalist, Shadreck Manyere, and former veteran reporter Jestina Mukoko remain in police custody after being abducted from their homes in December. They allege that they have been tortured by police. You stated in December that you would refuse to participate in a coalition government until these individuals and more than 30 others were released.
In January, a steep hike in accreditation fees for foreign and local journalists working for foreign media outlets further curtailed independent reporting in Zimbabwe. CPJ recorded 16 cases of journalists and media workers facing harassment or arrest by the state last year for lacking accreditation under the Access to Information and Personal Privacy Act (AIPPA). These illegal arrests were carried out by the government-controlled Media and Information Commission in direct contravention of a January 2008 amendment to the AIPPA law signed by President Robert Mugabe.
The current media environment remains hostile to the independent press and will ensure partisan press coverage of any future developments made under the auspices of the new power-sharing alliance. CPJ calls on the new unity government to move swiftly to free the media from control by the ruling party.
The Government of National Unity should take immediate steps to:
- Release Shadreck Manyere and Jestina Mukoko immediately.
- Abolish laws that require licensing of newspapers and journalists.
- Allow the banned Daily News to recommence operations. The paper was bombed twice and eventually shuttered in 2003 for alleged violations of the AIPPA law.
- End jamming of foreign radio stations, including the BBC, VOA, and the exiled stations Short-Wave Radio Africa, which broadcasts from London, and Voice of Peace, in Capetown.
- Permit all local and foreign journalists who have been deported, banned, or forced into exile for security concerns to return safely and without harassment.
- Repeal special taxes that apply to foreign newspapers and periodicals.
- Encourage the set-up of community radio stations which are allowed to operate under current laws but none have yet been granted permission to broadcast
CPJ believes that freedom of expression is an essential part of a democratic economically thriving state. We urge you to make press freedom a priority for the new Government of National Unity.
H.E. Machivenyika Mapuranga, Ambassador of Zimbabwe to the United States
H.E. John McGee, Ambassador of the United States to Zimbabwe
H.E. Edna Madzongwe, Speaker of the House of Senate of Zimbabwe
H. E. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma , Minister of Foreign Affairs, South Africa
Archbishop Desmond Tutu (Ret.), Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town
George Charamba, Presidential Spokesman, ZANU-PF
Nelson Chamisa, MDC Spokesperson, Department of Information & Publicity
Robert Wood, Acting Spokesperson, U.S. Department of State
Chris Mbanga, Chief of Staff, MDC
Mary Jo Wills, Office Director for Southern Africa, U.S. State Department
Tim Gerhardson, Public Affairs Officer, Harare, U.S. State Department
Khumbulani Ndlovu, Information Officer, Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions
Karen Freeman, Mission Director, USAID Zimbabwe
Dave Peterson, Africa Program Senior Director, National Endowment for Democracy
Basildon Peta, Director, Zimbabwe Media Trust
Karen B. Stewart, Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Article 19 (United Kingdom)
Artikel 19 (The Netherlands)
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Freedom of Expression and Democracy Unit, UNESCO
Human Rights Watch
Index on Censorship
International Center for Journalists
International Federation of Journalists
International Press Institute
The Newspaper Guild
The North American Broadcasters Association
Overseas Press Club