THE Zimbabwe government has allowed the BBC and CNN back into the
country, eight years after they were banned, reports a

This follows meetings the international broadcasters held with the Minister of Media, Information and Publicity, Webster Shamu, his permanent secretary, George Charamba, and principal director, Sylvester Maunganidze.

The first meeting was held on 19 July with a BBC delegation which comprised its world news editor Jon Williams, Africa bureaus editor Sarah Halfpenny, and Gringo Wotshela. Subsequent meetings were held with CNN Johannesburg bureau chief Kim Norgaard.

The BBC last worked in Zimbabwe in 2001 after the authorities expelled the organisation’s Harare correspondent Joseph Winter while  CNN  ceased its operations after the authorities allegedly questioned the organisation’s coverage of the country’s land reform programme.

In a letter to the BBC after the meetings, Shamu said the government never banned the organisation from reporting in Zimbabwe.

“We agreed that whatever communication problems which the BBC and the officials of the Zimbabwe may have had in the past, the Zimbabwe government never banned the BBC from carrying out lawful activities inside Zimbabwe.

“For the purposes of the record, I restate the main points of our meeting. We acknowledged the need to put behind us the mutually ruinous relationship of the past,” reads part of the letter.

According to the letter, the BBC and the government agreed that the latter would employ locals at its proposed Harare Bureau.

The organisation was, however, still free to send its crews to Zimbabwe whenever the need arose. It was also agreed that BBC and CNN would respect local legislation and uphold professional standards.

Several media bodies welcomed the development as the Zimbabwe unity government moves to start media reforms.

Tne Zimbabwe chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa welcomed the move, calling on the government to extend media reform.

"The government can further demonstrate its commitment to freeing the media environment by repealing repressive legislation such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) to allow the entry of new players in both the print and broadcasting sector," said Misa Zimbabwe.

In recent weeks, the government has also cleared the way for Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe, the publishers of the banned Daily News, to resume publishing. Interviews have also been held with prospective members of the new Zimbabwe Media Commission, which is to replace the Media and Information Commission.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwean journalists on 28 July 2009 launched the Zimbabwe Journalists for Human Rights (ZJHR) as part of efforts to curb violations of media freedom and the abuse of journalists’ professional rights.

Speaking at the launch ceremony at the Harare press club, The Quill, ZJHR spokesperson Dumisani Muleya, said the organisation was moulded along the lines of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Muleya said his organisation would among other objectives lobby the government to create an enabling environment for the free practice of journalism.

He said the launch of ZJHR came against the backdrop of the restrictive media environment that has seen scores of journalists harassed, arrested or tortured and the closure of publications such as The Daily News.

“We will also initiate pro-active and high level publicity on violations of human rights in Zimbabwe as well as network with other human rights organisations for the betterment of journalists’ interests,” said Muleya.

ZJHR would also lobby the Southern African Development Community
(SADC) and African Union to adhere to regional and international instruments that promote media freedom and the right to the enjoyment of freedom of expression.

Chairperson Pedzisai Ruhanya stressed that ZJHR was not there to compete but complement the excellent work being undertaken by media organisations such as MISA-Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, Federation of African Media Women in Zimbabwe (FAMWZ) and Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe and would network with them to advance the rights of journalists.

Ruhanya said the organisation would be guided by regional and international instruments that protect and promote human rights, freedom of expression and media freedom such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and Zimbabwe’s constitutional provisions in that regard.