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Authorities accuse journalists of "propaganda assault," threaten to ban foreign media

(MISA/IFEX) - The Permanent Secretary for Information and Publicity George Charamba and President Robert Mugabe's spokesperson have threatened to ban accredited foreign bureaus or local reporters working for foreign news organisations after accusing them of embarking on a propaganda assault on Zimbabwe.

In an interview during the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation's main television news broadcast on 12 December 2008, Charamba said the foreign bureaus accredited in Zimbabwe had quoted President Robert Mugabe out of context following his remarks that the country had "arrested" the cholera outbreak. Charamba said Zimbabwe had no need to accredit the foreign news agencies as required under the repressive Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA).

The threat to deal with the foreign news organisations was given in greater detail the next day under the column "The Other Side with Nathaniel Manheru," published every Saturday by the state-controlled national daily, "The Herald." The Permanent Secretary is widely believed to be the author of the column.

Reuters, Agence France-Presse (AFP), BBC, AP, France 24 International and Al Jazeera were singled out as undermining their bureaus in Zimbabwe and "reducing local reporters to mere runners, mere providers of raw copy which they then rewrite to suit their nations' agendas." In his 13 December column, Manheru wrote, "They have played little gods with copy on Zimbabwe, in the process rubbishing the letter and spirit of AIPPA (Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act). There has to be robust response."

Manheru also accused the "State Department" of creating a "full-blown structure" in Pretoria, South Africa, for purposes of compromising local journalists and stringers of foreign news organisations based in Harare. He said the elaborate operation was run by a female American intelligence officer from Pretoria who was in the newsrooms of Reuters and AFP in Zimbabwe, "including inhabiting the heart of a well-known editor."

He accused Sydney Masamvu, a former political editor with the banned "Daily News" who is now based in South Africa, Sizani Weza of the US Public Affairs Section in Harare, freelance journalists Brian Hungwe and Frank Chikowore and Luke Tamborinyoka, the director of information and publicity with the Movement for Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai, of being part of the operation. "The line between these journalistic misdeeds and espionage grows thinner and thinner by the day. I happen to know that the authorities are about to place a price on those concerned and let no one cry," warned Manheru.

For further information on the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/98678

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