- 'The Standard', Zimbabwe's main remaining independent newspaper, is increasing targeted by the government. Last month, the weekly was attacked for publishing a photo of President Robert Mugabe hitching up his trousers. Yesterday, a 'Standard' correspondent was arrested over a story on run-aways in the Zimbabwean army.
On Wednesday, Richard Musazulwa, a special correspondent for the privately-owned weekly 'The Standard', appeared in a Harare court on charges of publishing falsehoods under controversial the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA). He was granted a ZWD$ 50,000 (approximately US$ 9) bail and remanded in custody until 26 October, according to reports from the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA).
Mr Musazulwa, who is based in the central Zimbabwean town of Gweru, was questioned by police on Tuesday in connection with a story published by 'The Standard' on 4 January. The story, entitled "ZMA Recruits Flee Training", claimed that half of the 39 recruits at the Zimbabwe Military Academy in Gweru had deserted camp due to hunger and rigorous training in 2003.
The journalist was allegedly harassed and threatened by soldiers following publication of the story, according to MISA. He reported the harassment to police in Gweru, but his complaint has not been followed up.
Attacks on 'The Standard' and its sister publication, the 'Zimbabwe Independent', have increased lately. Only last month, Zimbabwe's Media and Information Commission (MIC) issued an 1 October deadline to 'Standard' editor Bornwell Chakaodza to submit a negative of the photograph of President Mugabe taken at the Harare Agricultural Show in August this year.
On 29 August, the 'Standard' had published a front page photograph of President Mugabe hitching up his trousers under a headline titled "Smartening Up". MIC chairman Dr Tafataona Mahoso, claimed the Commission had received "numerous telephone complaints" about the photograph.
Editor Chakaodza told the MISA-Zimbabwe that he found Mr Mahoso's demand bizarre. "This defies words, I am lost for words. All I can say for now is that this is a complaint from Jonathan Moyo [Minister of Information and Publicity in the President’s Office]. In any case, we will not be able to submit a negative of the picture because our photographer used a digital camera."
- I think their suspicion is that we played around with the computer to produce the photograph in question, said Mr Chakaodza. He added that the matter had been referred to their lawyers who were going to respond to Mahoso accordingly.
The negative in question was requested for in a letter where Mr Mahoso enclosed a written complaint from "one of the 10 or so complainants." This complainant was given as J Neusu from the Zimbabwe's Department of Information, writing on behalf of the Secretary of State for Information and Publicity, George Charamba. Mr Mahoso's letter says the photograph sought to "caricature, belittle and undermine the dignity of the Head of State."
Mr Mahoso has threatened further action against 'The Standard'. According to MISA, this action by the MIC is part of a greater policy of attacking the privately-owned newspaper. "During the past week alone, journalists from the 'Standard' and its sister publication the 'Zimbabwe Independent' have been questioned by the police about stories published as far back as February," the media watchdog says.
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