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[2011 trends] Zimbabwe: Brute force to silence the media
Trend 1: more stolen elections
As Zimbabwe limps towards elections, the government is becoming increasingly paranoid about criticism from independent media. Robert Mugabe and ZANU PF have begun once again to unroll the apparatus of violence in preparation for polls in 2011. The partisan police force has resorted to manufacturing charges against journalists in an attempt to silence them.
Trend 2: persecution of journalists
"Publishing falsehoods" is a crime under the draconian and mis-named Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act - AIPPA - that demands the registration and licensing by the state-controlled Media and Information Commission of all newspapers, media outlets and journalists. In its first two years, the MIC closed down five independent newspapers. Hundreds of journalists were arrested and many beaten - not one conviction was secured. The trend continues.
In November and December several journalists and editors were arrested, beaten up, locked up - all guilty of one thing: practising journalism. All were released, but face lengthy and expensive court cases.
In November the state media carried announcements from the police spokesman, Andrew Phiri, that a warrant had been obtained for my arrest and that the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) was on a "manhunt for Mbanga - believed to reside in the UK". My telephone number and email address are published in every issue of the paper and I have made no secret of the fact that I am in self-imposed exile in the UK! Phiri has subsequently stated that the ZRP have asked Interpol to assist in "apprehending Mbanga".
Independent media, the enemy
Since its power began to wane in the late 1990s, ZANU PF has seen the independent media as its enemy. Not only independent journalists operate in a constant climate of threats and fear. State editors and reporters, too, live in constant terror of the chop - and worse.
And if early indications are anything to go by, the 2011 elections will see similar, if not worse, horror. These pre-emptive strikes against independent journalists are the first, familiar, salvo.
Formidable state media empire
Lined up against the formidable state media empire - which includes a total monopoly of radio and television, two national dailies, two national Sundays, several urban and rural weeklies, the national news agency Ziana and the Zimbabwe Information Service, with correspondents in the country's 52 districts, is a tiny array of independent voices.
These comprise one local weekly, The Independent, one local Sunday, The Standard, as well as The Zimbabwean and its Sunday sister - trucked in from South Africa because of the restrictive government licensing requirements. And the Sunday Times. On the broadcasting front, there is the London-based SW Radio Africa, South Africa-based Voice of the People and the US-based VOA Studio 7.
And still ZANU PF fails to control the hearts and minds of Zimbabweans - even rural Zimbabweans, whose levels of literacy and political sophistication surpass those of most other Africans. The widespread hunger for news is evidence that the state media has totally lost all credibility.
Trend 3: The decent will endure
The ordinary, decent people of Zimbabwe, those without their snouts in the ZANU PF feeding trough, will continue to hunger for justice and truth and to endure with admirable courage the dastardly oppression of the Mugabe regime.