(IPI/IFEX) - In a 27 July 2001 letter to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, IPI deplored the latest decision by the Zimbabwean government to suspend the accreditation of British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) correspondents in the country.
On the basis of information provided to IPI, on 26 July, the state-owned newspaper "The Herald" published an official letter sent to the BBC by Information and Publicity Minister Jonathan Moyo. The letter criticised the report written by BBC correspondent Rageh Omaar on President Mugabe's speech at the state-opening of the new session of parliament on 24 July.
In the letter, Moyo complained that Omaar had misrepresented the language used by President Mugabe in the speech. The letter stated, "[the BBC report used] the words that the President 'vowed to continue with the forcible [land] acquisition', yet these words were nowhere in the President's speech". Moyo's letter went on to say, "the president made it clear that land would be acquired as it has been, in terms of the laws of Zimbabwe".
Regarding the disparity, Moyo commented, "It is apparent that, as it has happened many times before, the BBC approached the president's speech with a preconceived view to distorting it to give a false impression that there is no rule of law in Zimbabwe". He also went onto say that there was a world of difference between forcible acquisition and lawful acquisition.
Concluding the letter, the information and publicity minister said, "Under the circumstances and given many examples of deliberate unethical and unprofessional conduct by the BBC, which we have bought to your attention... please be advised that the department of information and publicity has suspended all accreditation of BBC correspondents in Zimbabwe pending agreement, if at all, on an ethical and professional code of conduct".
Although the decision came after Omaar had returned to Britain on 24 July and his camera crew had returned to South Africa on 25 July, the BBC said it would prevent them from using their local producer. Speaking to the media, Milton Nikosi, BBC bureau chief in South Africa, said, "We will be discussing the situation with the Zimbabwean government to resolve the situation as soon as possible."
The decision to deny accreditation to BBC correspondents comes one month after the government introduced new rules on accreditation and is the latest act against foreign journalists reporting in Zimbabwe. In February, Joseph Winter, a BBC correspondent and Mercedes Sayagues, of the "Mail and Guardian" newspaper in South Africa, were forced to leave the country (see IFEX alerts of 19 July, 15 June, 2 March, 26, 21, 19, 16 and 15 February 2001). On 17 June, producer Simon Finch, journalist John Sweeney and cameraman James Miller were asked to leave for not fulfilling the accreditation requirements (see IFEX alert of 21 June 2001). A number of days earlier, Sean Langhan, a producer for the BBC community programmes department, was also forced to leave the country. On 26 June, David Blair, a correspondent with the "Daily Telegraph" was informed that his accreditation would not be renewed and he had to leave Zimbabwe by 17 July (see IFEX alert of 28 June 2001).
In the belief of IPI, the latest decision to ban correspondents is a further sign of the Zimbabwean government's desire to prevent critical reporting in the lead-up to the presidential elections, which must be held before April 2002. By removing foreign journalists, the government of Zimbabwe is seeking to sanitise the news and control the free flow of information both inside and outside the country.
Send appeals to the president:
- reminding him that the media play an essential role in all modern-day societies and that the government has every opportunity to contest certain viewpoints and perspectives by giving its own interviews and news conferences
- noting that this is especially true in the case of Zimbabwe, where the government has access to state-owned media outlets who are prepared to act as conduits for the government's own opinions
- further noting, with this in mind, that it is particularly distressing to see the Zimbabwe government choosing to follow a repressive path by actively banning foreign media outlets
- inviting him to rescind the minister for information and publicity's recent decision and restore accreditation rights to the BBC
- inviting him to amend his accreditation rules on foreign journalists and allow all journalists to enter Zimbabwe and report freely on the news
- noting that by doing so, he will be upholding press freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of movement in Zimbabwe
His Excellency President Robert Mugabe
Office of the President
Fax: +263 4 728 799 / 708 820 / 734 644
Please copy appeals to the source if possible.