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Zimbabwe bars many foreign news outlets from covering ensuing elections

Not a has bean: Members of Morgan Tsvangirai's opposition Movement for Democratic Change party (MDC) load up tins of baked beans to be handed out at rallies in Bulawayo on March 24. Zimbabwe's opposition added its voice on Wednesday to growing international concerns about this weekend's elections, despite government assurances that the ballot would be free and fair.Photo: AFP/File/Alexander Joe

The Zimbabwe government has done what it was expected to do ahead of the March 29 general elections—it is clamping down on the media.

To start with it has refused to allow several leading international news organisaitons to cover the elections although it has signed international conventions that require it to guarantee “total access to national and international media.” A jail sentence of up to two years is imposed to any journalist operating in Zimbabwe without accreditation.

The main news organisations to be barred are British state broadcaster BBC, American TV networks CNN and MSNBC, South African broadcaster E-tv, London-based dailies Guardian and Daily Telegraph, and South Africa’s Independent Newspapers Group, according to Reporters sans frontières (RSF).

The government has granted accreditation to state-owned South Africa Broadcasting Corporation but has forbidden it to use its own satellite transmission equipment. It must instead use equipment provided by Zimbabwe’s state-owned broadcaster, ZBC.

As regards international news organisations that are already accredited in Zimbabwe, which including Reuters, Agence France-Presse (AFP), the Associated Press (AP), and the Qatar-based TV station Al-Jazeera, Presidential spokesman George Charamba said a government committee took a “sympathetic view” to their requests to send additional support staff for the elections but he warned that their bureau chiefs would be held “fully accountable” for their behaviour.

The South African National Editors' Forum (SANEF), acording to AFP, said the ban breached an article of the Zimbabwean constitution guaranteeing freedom of expression as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

A CNN spokesman said: "CNN regrets the Zimbabwean government's decision to deny us permission to enter the country to cover the parliamentary and presidential elections. We hope that the government will reconsider its decision. CNN will continue to cover the elections as widely as possible from South Africa and surrounding countries."

Charamba, on March 24, announced that a government committee set up to examine requests from international media for accreditation to cover the elections had refused most of the requests. “We are mindful of attempts to turn journalists into observers and security personnel from hostile countries,” Charamba had previously said.

Zimbabwean journalists have also been banned from covering the elections. Freelance journalist Hopewell Chin’ono, winner of this year’s “Desmond Tutu Leadership Fellowship,” was told by the electoral commission on March 11 that his accreditation request had been turned down on the instructions of the government's Media Information Commission (MIC), which has put him on a blacklist although he has an MIC accreditation valid until the end of the year.

The Southern African Development Community’s “Principles and Rules Governing Democratic Elections,” which Zimbabwe signed in 2004, require member states to guarantee “total access to national and international media” during elections.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) remains virtually out of all media coverage in the country. an MDC statement said, "Both the Zimbabwe newspapers and the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation continue to be purveyors of the voice of the dictator (PResident Robert Mugabe). Their news items comprise Zanu PF campaign material while MDC is granted scant negative coverage. Mugabe has become a permanent news item on the public media, which has been a launchpad of malicious verbal assaults against other presidential candidates while MDC has been blacked out of these two publicly funded media."

Date posted: March 26, 2008 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 544