The Zimbabwe government has launched a price blitz against  newspaper
owners who have hiked their cover prices to cushion themselves against
soaring production costs, writes Torby Muturikwa.

The government of President Robert Mugabe says newspapers must not increase their prices without approval from a commission appointed to control the prices of goods and services.

The government fixed the newspapers’ price at $55 000 (less than R1) in a country where vendors sell a single cigarette for $100 000 (R1).

On 9 November, police arrested editors and chief executive officers of two leading weekly papers – The Financial Gazette and The Zimbabwe Independent – after the two newspapers raised their prices to $600 000 (R4,50) citing escalating production costs and the steep prices of newsprint.

Jacob Chisese, the CEO of the Financial Gazette and his Zimbabwe Independent counterpart, Raphael Khumalo, were picked up by plainclothes detectives in raids at the two newspapers’ premises.

The Financial Gazette’s acting editor-in-chief  Hama Saburi was also summoned to Harare Central Police Station where he was ordered to reduce the cover price of the Financial Gazette to less than R2.
Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena told journalists that the newspaper bosses were questioned for over-pricing.

owever, both the Financial Gazette and The Zimbabwe Independent are understood to be facing viability problems due to the ever-escalating production costs, especially the cost of newsprint.

The leading state daily, The Herald, has cut its circulation as a result of newsprint costs. Only recently was it allowed to increase its cover price to $100 000 (R1).

Against this background, The Financial Gazette and The Zimbabwe Independent argued  a price hike could have helped the papers, which are also grappling with dwindling advertising revenue because increasingly fewer companies can afford to advertise.

The National Incomes and Pricing Commission was set up  to guard against over pricing of basic goods and services by  companies and other service providers.

Zimbabwe is currently reeling from shortages of basic goods following the price freeze.

Hundreds of company executives were arrested for flouting price regulations.

Meanwhile, the trial of Bright Chibvuri, the editor of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) magazine, The Worker, which was scheduled to continue in the south western border town of Plumtree on 5 November 2007 was postponed indefinitely due to the ongoing strike by some of the country’s magistrates

Magistrates in Harare and Bulawayo embarked on the strike action over poor salaries and working conditions. It appears that the strike has now spread to other smaller towns such as Plumtree. Chibvuri has pleaded not guilty to practicing journalism without accreditation, as demanded by the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa).
At the time of his arrest in March, Chibvuri had already applied for accreditation but had not received a response from the Media and Information Commission. He has since been duly accredited