- In the past three months, independent news reports from inside Zimbabwe have been reaching readers around the world through a clandestine network of journalists. This is no small feat, considering the independent press in the country is by now almost non-existent and most foreign correspondents have been kicked out of the country.
Thanks to a group of Zimbabwean journalists who have been writing in secrecy from inside the country, people outside of Zimbabwe are finally able to receive uncensored information and read stories from local journalists, reported today the African Press Network for the 21st Century (RAP 21). The project has only been possible by working underground.
'The Zimbabwe Election Reports' is a project run by the Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) that groups together 11 journalists and one photographer, all of whom have been chronicling events leading up to and following the controversial parliamentary elections that took place in March.
One article from the clandestine network documents the terror tactics used to frighten citizens into supporting President Robert Mugabe's party, the Zanu-PF. The journalist writes about an incident in which the Zanu-PF youth militia - notoriously known as the "Green Bombers" - menaced opposition supporters to the point that many fled their homes before election day.
In a 18 March article another journalist writes about claims made by a opposition party spokesmen that President Mugabe's regime was only selling scarce supplies of maize to people who could produce Zanu-PF membership cards. The ruling party was reported to have stopped all foreign food aid in the run-up to the election, despite the fact that villagers in the countryside of Zimbabwe were beginning to die of starvation due to the failed fall maize harvest.
So far, over 30 articles have been successfully dispatched from Zimbabwe, RAP 21 reports. The artcles are then published on the IWPR website under pseudonyms to protect the identity of the journalists. Fred Bridgeland, author and foreign correspondent in Africa for over 25 years, edits and adds political and historical background to the journalists' field reports, in order to tailor them to an international audience. "The men and women reporting from Zimbabwe are doing a fantastic job. They really tell the truth," says Mr Brigdeland. "Indigenous reporters can give insights that foreign correspondents often miss."
The photos and articles expose critical information and images the likes of which have repeatedly gotten local editors, journalists and foreign correspondents thrown in jail or exiled, in addition to shutting down the independent newspapers they worked for. Working outside registration from the Commission on Media and Information – a body controlled by the Mugabe regime - if caught, these journalists would face serious penalisation for their reporting.
- With the local independent press clamped down, and the international press shut out, the IWPR reporters provide a unique window on a troubled country at a critical moment, Director of the project, Anthony Borden, told RAP 21.
Launched in October 2004, the goal of IWPR Africa is twofold: to improve press freedom on the continent, and to create news reports that combine regional insight with international journalistic standards of accuracy and professionalism. Following the election reports' success, IWPR will now continue to publish stories from local African reporters about issues in their regions.
- We have no illusions about the size of the challenge that faces African journalists, but this is a positive start, says IWPR operations manager Duncan Fuery. "There is an enormous hunger on behalf of African journalists to be trained and little opportunity to do so," he told RAP 21.
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