Reporters Without Borders welcomes the Zimbabwean government’s decision to allow the British Broadcasting Corporation and the US television news channel CNN to work in Zimbabwe again. The BBC has not had a presence in the country since its Harare correspondent, Joseph Winter, was expelled in 2001. CNN had to pull out of Zimbabwe in 2002.
“After many years of government mistrust of international news media, the return of these two leading international broadcasters is a decisive step in the restoration of press freedom in Zimbabwe,” Reporters Without Borders said.
“We encourage Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s government to move ahead with plans to amend the 2002 press law, in order to eliminate draconian articles that were used to suppress independent media,” the press freedom organisation added. “The promised Zimbabwe Media Council must be quickly created and its members must be guaranteed complete independence.”
The government gave the BBC and CNN permission to resume working in Zimbabwe today. The two news organisations have not yet announced when they will reopen their bureaux or be officially represented in the country again.
The decision was a result of a meeting on 19 July between information minister Webster Shamu, the BBC’s world news editor, Jon Williams, and its Africa bureau editor, Sarah Halfpenny. Shamu met CNN’s Johannesburg bureau chief, Kim Norgaard, a few days later.
Reporters Without Borders has been told that the Zimbabwe Media Council’s installation is imminent. Promised since early 2008, this new independent entity will be tasked with issuing licences to newspapers and will hopefully pave the way for the independent press’s reemergence in Zimbabwe.
The parliament is due to begin a series of meetings on 3 August with a view to choosing the council’s commissioners.
Reporters Without Borders has long been campaigning for the reform of the 2002 Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the 2007 Interception of Communications Act, which together gave the government almost total control over the Zimbabwe’s media.