Journalists and the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) have attacked the recently signed power-sharing deal for only calling for the opening of airwaves but totally ignoring the print media sector, writes Gugu Ziyaphapha.
The independent print media workers want guarantees that the five newspapers banned or seeking licences will be allowed to operate.
The accord between the MDC and ZANU PF is completely silent on the fate of the private print media but urges foreign countries to stop hosting and funding external radio stations manned by exiled Zimbabweans.
The unity agreement also calls on the exiled Zimbabwean journalists at these stations to return home and apply for licences to operate within Zimbabwe.
Article 19.1Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â of the agreement reads: ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œThe Parties hereby agree:-
(a) that the government shall ensure the immediate processing by the appropriate authorities of all applications for re-registration and registration in terms of both the Broadcasting Services Act as well as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act;
(b) all Zimbabwean nationals including those currently working for or running external radio stations be encouraged to make applications for broadcasting licences, in Zimbabwe, in terms of the law;
(c) that in recognition of the open media environment anticipated by this Agreement, the Parties hereby:-
(i) call upon the governments that are hosting and/or funding external radio stations broadcasting into Zimbabwe to cease such hosting and funding; and
(ii) encourage the Zimbabweans running or working for external radio stations broadcasting into Zimbabwe to return to Zimbabwe."
Saru Zindoga, a former journalist with the banned Daily News, says the new government should include the print media because it was heavily affected when hundreds of journalist were left jobless and thousands of readers were left without their source of news and information when Zanu PF closed down newpapers.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œThe MDC and Zanu PF unity government should also ensure that newspapers are back in circulation and that journalist or newspaper vendors are not harassed as they go about their work" she says.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œI think they should have mentioned something abut the print media in their 40-page agreement.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â
ZLHR says the parties to the agreement should urgently finalize the long-outstanding application for re-registration of The Daily News, and remove the punitive customs tax duty being charged on foreign publications such as The Zimbabwean.
The Zimbabwe Union of Journalists Secretary General Foster Dongozi says the accord will contribute to media freedom if the existing press laws are not changed.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œHave you ever seen an angels and rapists marrying? This unity government is not going to work as long as laws like AIPPA have not been removed completely,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â he says.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œI am surprised to know that some people in the opposition (MDC) that I have spoken to feel we (media) should be controlled. This is the reason why I will never trust these politicians. I am sure if the MDC was not in power they would have been the greatest advocates for the opening of Daily News but now that they are there, they will not do anything,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â says Dongozi.
Zindoga believes the current composition of the media regulatory bodies needs to be overhauled to reflect the new government. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œWe need fair minded members in these media committees, not partisan ones like the current members. ItÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s no longer a case of Zanu PF or MDC alone but both parties are now responsible for newspapers to operate freely,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â says Zindoga.
Because of the strict media environment, exiled Zimbabweans have established independent radio stations internet publications and newspapers based in countries such as South Africa, Botswana, Netherlands, UK and US.
Radio stations include Voice of AmericaÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s Studio 7, Radio VoP and SW Radio Africa.
SW Radio Africa set base in UK after being barred from broadcasting in Zimbabwe in 2001.