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Editors overjoyed, independent news is back; but media repression continues

Independent newspapers are making a comeback in Zimbabwe after being silenced for close to seven years. The country's media council announced on 26 May that it will grant licences to several privately owned dailies, permitting them to resume publishing, report the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF). But press freedom violations continue in other ways.

The Zimbabwe Media Council (ZMC) said publishing licences would be granted to all the privately owned newspapers that had applied for them."The Daily News" is one of several newspapers being reactivated. It was the country's most popular paper, known for its reliable reporting, when it was banned in 2003. Weeklies with reported ties to the ruling party have also been given licenses.

Ten years ago, the independent press was "an active force," says CPJ. But in 2002 President Robert Mugabe introduced draconian press laws requiring journalists and newspapers to register with the government. This information was used to close many independent publications. A few continued to publish, like the "Zimbabwe Independent" and "The Standard". But repressive legislation also placed journalists under tight surveillance, making it easier for police to monitor email messages and mobile phone calls.

In recent years, critical independent journalists have been harassed, intimidated, directly threatened by government officials, detained and tortured, and murdered. Some have fled the country.

This year, the ZMC had been promising for months to issue licenses. One defiant privately owned daily "NewsDay" did not want to wait so it hired journalists and began producing a four-page insert that was distributed inside the "Zimbabwe Independent" and "The Standard". During a fact-finding visit to Harare in March, RSF also learned that "NewsDay" intends to publish every day.

However, for state-owned media, journalists are gagged because editors take orders from the government, reports RSF: "Amid a constant fear of unfair dismissal, self-censorship is widespread." In March, a radio presenter for Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation was taken off the air for criticising the low pay given to civil servants who were then on strike.

In 2008, freelance news photographer Shadreck Anderson Manyere was imprisoned for months, held in horrific conditions and tortured. Since his release in 2009 he has been repeatedly arrested for covering demonstrations.

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