A senior Zimbabwean government official has said major international
broadcasters like the BBC and CNN are welcome to send their back into
the country,  writes a journalism.co.za correspondent.

The broadcasters have long been unable to cover Zimbabwe. But George Charamba, President Mugabe's spokesperson and Ministry of Information Permanent Secretary, has said: “We would want to remind CNN that they are not banned from this country. Nothing was given either orally or in writing, stating that they had been banned. It is just that they took a solidarity boycott with the BBC after we had said the latter was representing political interests.

"We have taken the decision that they must be engaged: Overtures have been made to both media organisations, and the BBC have said they'll be coming over while CNN's coverage would be from South Africa,” Charamba announced.

The BBC was banned from Zimbabwe in July 2001, five months after the organisation's Harare correspondent Joseph Winter was expelled.
CNN and other television channels, including South Africa’s e-tv, were also ordered out.

"A new media law is set to be passed before the end of the year, lifting restrictions on the operations of newspapers and journalists,” Charamba said.

Under the law, a new commission – the Zimbabwe Media Commission – will be formed to licence and re-admit newspapers that were banned by the government.

Recently, journalists and the government met in the resort town of Kariba to thrash outstanding issues before consummating reforms as spelt out in the country’s Global Political Agreement (GPA) of September 15 2008.

The GPA culminated  in the formation of an inclusive government which saw Mugabe joining hands with longtime rival Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and Arthur Mutambara of the smaller MDC faction.

Charamba also announced a new initiative being spearheaded by the Ministry of Information, Media and Publicity to position information attaches in  South Africa, Malaysia, China, Britain and the United States.

"The country needs to shed the negative image of the past," Charamba said. "The negative (image of the country) has been because of the political situation and this has been dealt with through the inclusive government. If we sort out our image mess back home, that will reflect outwardly."

Meanwhile, Charamba claimed criminals were "finding convenient refuge in journalism" after he was questioned by Members of Parliament on the arrest of freelance photographer  Shadreck Manyere and former TV news anchor Jestina Mukoko on banditry and terrorism charges.

"I asked for the name of the media house that employs Manyere: I got no answer! I asked for the name of the institution where he trained: Again, I got no answer!" he said.

"There is a general misconception that whosoever wields a notebook, pen and camera is a journalist. This makes it seem as  though there are no entry requirements (for the profession) when they exist,” Charamba said.

He said Mukoko left journalism for civic society endeavours, yet she was still being identified as a journalist