Zimbabwe allows independent dailies for 1st time in 7 years

New York, May 27, 2010—The Committee to Protect Journalists hails the Zimbabwe Media Commission’s decision to grant publishing licenses to The Daily News, the long-banned independent newspaper, and a handful of other publications. Commission Chairman Godfrey Majonga announced on Wednesday that the licenses would be issued immediately, marking the first time in nearly seven years that an independent daily will be allowed to print domestically, local journalists told CPJ.

A new independent daily, NewsDay, was also approved for domestic publication.

The Media Commission approved three other licenses as well. They went to The Daily Gazette, to be published by the company that now produces The Financial Gazette, a weekly that has some reported ties to the ruling ZANU-PF; The Mail, a new publication owned by a company linked to the ruling party; and The Worker, a monthly run by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions that now will become a weekly.

“We welcome this decision with open arms and hope this will allow the public access to independent reporting,” said CPJ’s Africa Program Coordinator Tom Rhodes. “We now urge the coalition government to enact broadcast media reforms that will promote diversity and independence in news media.”

The Media Commission was established in December 2009 as part of the media reform efforts that were included in the power-sharing deal between the ruling ZANU-PF and opposition parties.

The independent print press was once an active force in Zimbabwean society. But in 2002, facing stiffening political opposition, President Robert Mugabe introduced draconian media laws requiring journalists and newspapers to register with the government. In practice, the government used these rules to shut down independent publications.

Under editor Geoffrey Nyarota, a former CPJ International Press Freedom Awardee, The Daily News had been the nation’s most popular paper before it was banned by the government in September 2003. Nyarota has served recently as an online consultant for The Daily News

A small handful of independent weeklies have continued to publish in Zimbabwe over the past seven years. They include the Zimbabwe Independent and The Standard, both of which are owned by the same company that plans to publish NewsDay. Other independent publications, such as The Zimbabwean, led by the exiled editor Wilf Mbanga, are printed outside the country and then shipped into Zimbabwe.

Editor’s note: The original text of this alert was corrected to remove an erroneous reference to Geoffrey Nyarota’s role in the relaunch of The Daily News. He has recently served as a consultant. He is not serving as editor.