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MISA denounces priority given to new state-owned newspaper

(MISA/IFEX) - The launch of the daily newspaper "H-Metro" ("Harare Metro") by the state-controlled Zimbabwe Newspapers Group (Zimpapers) on 7 September 2009 with the sanction of the Ministry of Media, Information and Publicity is reflective of the skewed and undemocratic media environment in the country.

While MISA-Zimbabwe recognises the need for media pluralism and diversity and commends any efforts towards enhancing such diversity, the licensing of any new media houses or publications should be transparent and in terms of the law.

It is, however, apparent in this instance that the government, through the responsible ministry, has chosen to use its political prerogative to expand state-funded newspapers in the country to the distinct disadvantage of other media players awaiting licensing in terms of Constitutional Amendment Number 19 which establishes the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC).

This particular move by the government can only be considered as arbitrary and distinctly against the spirit and letter of pursuing wholesale and non-discriminatory media reforms that enhance freedom of expression and access to information. This is even more glaring at a time when publishing companies such as the Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ), Zimind Publishers and Financial Gazette, among others, have been instructed by the responsible ministry to await establishment of the ZMC for them to be permitted to publish their own dailies.

It is MISA- Zimbabwe's view that the government is exhibiting particular bias towards its own newspaper group, Zimpapers. This bias can only be construed to portray and project the Ministry of Media, Information and Publicity as representing a government that is acting to pre-empt other competitors in a manner that is outside the very laws that it is asking other stakeholders to uphold.

It is therefore of the utmost urgency for the government, through the Ministry of Media, Information and Publicity, to explain to the media fraternity as well as the Zimbabwean public as to whether the state controlled print media is above the law, as well as cite the precise constitutional and regulatory provisions that allowed "H-Metro" to be published.

In raising these concerns, MISA-Zimbabwe remains guided by Section 5 of the resolutions of the Media All-Stakeholders Conference held in December of 2008 to which members of the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe are a signatory:

5. Print Media: We hold that the print media remains a key component of Zimbabwe's media diversity, and should be allowed to operate independently without undue influence from the state or government of the day. We also hold that the state and any government of the day should not have any direct stake or interest in the ownership or management of the print media as this compromises the sector's diversity and independence. Where the state has had direct control of the media, we recommend that it disinvests in these print media houses and allow for independent control of those media houses.

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