Zimbabwe has slapped stiff import duties on foreign newspapers as a way
of "taming hostile newspapers", writes our correspondent.

"Foreign newspapers sold in Zimbabwe will now have to pay import duty as the government moves to protect the Zimbabwean media space," the government said in the aftermath of new regulations published in an extraordinary government gazette.

The new measures impose 40% import tax on foreign publications including newspapers, journals, magazines and periodicals which have now been classified as luxury goods.

Several newspapers published by exiled Zimbabwean journalists are likely to be hard hit by the move.

Import duty of 40% of the total cost per kilogram would be effected immediately, said the gazette.
The import duty is aimed at stopping the distribution of foreign papers although media groups say it is aimed at The Zimbabwean and The Zimbabwean On Sunday, popular weekly newspapers published and run from England by Wilf Mbanga.

A truck full of copies of the Zimbabwean On Sunday was recently burnt by suspected intelligence officers. The South African registered truck was bringing in 60 000 copies of the paper from South Africa.

Both the Zimbabwean and The Zimbabwean On Sunday are printed in South Africa and then transported by road to Zimbabwe.

Other foreign papers distributed in Zimbabwe include South African weeklies – The Mail&Guardian, The Sunday Times, The Sunday Independent and The Star.

President Robert Mugabe's spokesman George Charamba said it was "important to slap the publications with tax to minimise their damage".

"The government is looking at the whole regime which allows anyone to push their publications here without paying anything or paying very little, yet when sales are done profits have to be turned into foreign currency which leaves the country," Charamba said. "We lose the politics, we lose money. As the ministry responsible, it is our duty to protect and defend the national media space."

Zimbabwe has tough media laws that make it difficult for both foreign and local journalists to practice.Since the enactment of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) – four newspapers have been shut down and one television station closed.

Among those banned was the popular private daily – The Daily News – which at one point sold 100 000 copies daily.

Dozens of journalists have been either arrested or assaulted under the draconian media laws.