- Only one week after it first appeared, Zimbabwe's new independent weekly, the 'Weekly Times', faces closure due to government complaints. The government hold that the 'Weekly Times' had misled it when seeking to set up the newspaper, demonstrated by an interview criticising President Robert Mugabe.
Zimbabwe's government-controlled Media and Information Commission (MIC) is threatening to suspend or cancel the registration certificate of the 'Weekly Times' newspaper, barely a week after it hit the streets. The MIC's notice to suspend or cancel the licence was issued this week by its chairman, Tafataona Mahoso.
Mr Mahoso accuses Mthwakazi Publishing House, publishers of the 'Weekly Times', of having misled the Commission by not stating its "true intention" in setting up the paper. According to Mr Mahoso, the publishing company had told the MIC that the weekly aimed to "inform, educate, spearhead development in the country and uphold the rules of fairness, impartial reporting, honesty and integrity."
The MIC in its letter however claims that the newspaper had not made any attempt at impartial reporting in what it describes as its "running political commentary through and through". Mr Mahoso cites the publication's lead story as "a clear sectarian view of the President of Zimbabwe."
The lead story was an interview with Archbishop Pius Ncube, an arch-critic of President Robert Mugabe. In the interview, the outspoken Catholic cleric accused President Mugabe of allegedly remaining "unrepentant" following the army's alleged massacre of innocent civilians in Zimbabwe's Matabeleland during the early 1980s dissident insurgency.
It is for this reason, among others, that the commission intends to suspend or cancel the newspaper's registration certificate in accordance with the draconian Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA). Mr Mahoso gave the publishing company seven days within which to show cause why its publishing licence should not be suspended or cancelled.
Kucaca Phulu, who is representing Mthwakazi Publishing House, told the Zimbabwe chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Zimbabwe) that they were looking into the case and were expected to be in a position to shed light on what course of action to take.
MISA-Zimbabwe today reacted strongly to this threat to close the 'Weekly Times'. The MIC's notice "speaks volumes about the government's commitment to media freedom and freedom of expression," the media watchdogs said in a statement. The group sees the threat as part of "the government's onslaught against the independent media ahead of parliamentary elections" slated for March.
The recent events come on the back of the government's banning of the privately-owned 'The Daily News' and 'Daily News on Sunday' in September 2003, which was followed by that of 'The Tribune' in June 2004. Only two independent weeklies - 'The Standard' and 'The Zimbabwe Independent' - still exist in Zimbabwe.
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