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11/15/04 - ZIMBABWE RESTRICTS MEDIA  - 2004-11-16

The government of Zimbabwe is making it more difficult for independent journalists to report on conditions in Zimbabwe, including violence, corruption, and economic mismanagement.

Zimbabwe's parliament is dominated by the ruling ZANU-PF party of President Robert Mugabe. Recently, the parliament toughened the so-called Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. A new amendment says journalists who do not have government-issued licenses may be fined or jailed for up to two years.

The original law was bad enough. It forbids foreign journalists from staying in Zimbabwe and says that only reporters licensed by a government- controlled commission may practice journalism. The commission is also dominated by ZANU-PF supporters. Three newspapers, including the Daily News, have been charged with violating the law and have been shut down. Publishing houses are also targets of the repressive law.

Slowly but surely, Zimbabwe's government is smothering democratic institutions in Zimbabwe. The latest move against the press is another sign that the government has yet to get serious about implementing the election guidelines of SADC, the Southern African Development Community. SADC election guidelines require governments to allow media access for all parties, and to safeguard freedom of assembly, association, expression, and campaigning. The guidelines also require Southern African Development Community members to establish impartial and accountable election institutions.

All SADC members, including Zimbabwe, accepted these guidelines at their summit meeting last August in Mauritius. Unless Zimbabwe adheres to the guidelines, the elections next year will not be free or fair, and Zimbabwe will have difficulty restoring normal relations with other countries. Morgan Tsvangirai, head of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, says, "The [Mugabe] regime has deliberately refused to create the much needed democratic space for the realization of essential freedoms." Mr. Tsvangirai says "Zimbabwe needs a new beginning."