Zimbabwe police is now editing and censoring all stories related to political violence that are published or broadcast by the state-owned media, writes Gugu Ziyaphapha.

Journalists and editors from the public media told www.journalism.co.za that since the controversial June 27 one man presidential run-off, stories concerning political violence are only published once they have been vetted and approved by the police spokesperson, Senior Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena.

The Herald news editor, Isdore Guvamombe, told journalists meeting in the country’s oldest city, Masvingo, that stories are sent from newsrooms to Bvudzijena who then “edits” them and gives clearance for their publication.

Guvamombe, an 80s liberation war veteran, said the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) instructed public media houses to hand over material to them on the grounds of “national security “.

He said although Bvudzijena, a trained journalist, could not write good copy, they have had to publish the version he approved.

The move to censor and edit stories and give them a “politically correct” make-over is viewed by media analysts as Zanu PF’s way of trying to persuade the public to believe that biggest perpetrators of violence are not Zanu PF but the MDC.

Meanwhile, the publishers and distributors of the UK-based The Zimbabwean and other publications are demanding the release of the publications and a refund of the foreign currency they paid as luxury goods customs tax.

The publishers and the National Association of Independent Newspaper Distributors argue that the confiscated publications are now stale as they have stayed more than a month in government warehouses despite the prohibitive duty being paid for them in hard forex.

The Zimbabwean’s 19 June 2008 issue and other foreign publications were seized by government just before the June 27 run-off election when it imposed customs duty on foreign publications, which is only payable in hard forex.

On July 10, three weeks after The Zimbabwean publishers paid R42 000 as duty for the June 19 issue, government says it still will not release the newspaper until storage charges amounting to Z$10 trillion (R1000) are fully paid to the National Handling Services, the state’s warehouse.

A statement from the distributors said: "After stealing our money, depriving our readers of the information and depriving us of any revenue from the sale of our newspapers, they now want to further cripple us with the type of storage charges meant to push us out of business.”

Munn Marketing is also demanding their forex back because only The Economist magazines have been released but two issues of the British Weekly Telegraph and Sunday Times are still being held by customs.

“Our vendors were routinely harassed during the run up to the election run-off of June 27. A number of them were subjected to beatings and intimidation. Those newspapers which managed to come through were not allowed to be freely distributed and sold. This is illegal, cruel, vindictive and a desperate measure as well as being blatant daylight robbery" said the statement from the distributors.

Meanwhile, SA-based Globecast Satellite, whose two employees were arrested in March for practicing journalism without accreditation, is now being charged with the illegal importation of broadcasting equipment.

The company has pleaded not guilty on the basis that it was invited to provide a satellite uplink during the controversial March 29 elections. The acting CEO of the government-owned signal carrier, Transmedia Corporation, Cloud Nyamundanda confirmed to the court that Transmedia invited Globecast to provide satellite uplink services during the elections.

Nyamundanda conceded that in terms of the contract signed between Transmedia and Globecast, it was Transmedia’s duty to apply for the two-day operating licence.

Two days before the March 29 poll, Globecast’s two engineers Sipho Maseko and Abdulla Gaibee who were not accredited as journalist interviewed Information Minister, Dr Sikhanyiso Ndlovu and the interview was also used by CNN without Transmedia’s knowledge, which the state says was also a violation the contract between Globecast and Transmedia.

Maseko and Gaibee were acquitted by a Harare magistrate, immediately and dramatically rearrested outside the court because government thought that the ruling was not “proper”.
The pair was later released in April and immediately fled to seek refugee at the South African embassy fearing they might be re arrested again.