News that Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe, publishers of the Daily News, are finally going to launch their Sunday paper has sent the media industry in a frenzy. Tension among editors is very high as they are not sure who among their staff is going to be poached. The launching of new papers has become a nightmare for most editors as their staff either leave for “greener” pastures, or force them to negotiate better salaries and perks by threatening to leave.
The Sunday Express has failed to take off on two occasions. Staff for the paper was recruited in 2000 and Leo Hatugari who was recruited from Bulawayo to launch the paper has been confined to writing columns for the daily, where he is now an assistant editor. It looks he is being sidelined in the new set-up with people coming from outside ANZ, but other former employees of the organisation coming to head the new paper.
The Sunday Express is joining an already crowded market. It joins the Sunday Mail which at one time was the biggest selling newspaper in the country, the Standard whose readership has been growing, the Sunday Mirror, which seems to have picked up since it broke the story about the Mugabe exit plan, the Sunday News which seems to be losing ground, and of course, the South African Sunday Times, a favourite with those who are looking for jobs abroad.
Though it will enter a flooded market, which already has three other privately owned Sunday papers,the new paper is not likely to be in competition with the Sunday Mail and Sunday News . They have a defined line to follow and do not generally pay attention to the private media unless it is to rebutt some of the stories they will have published. The Sunday Mirror has a different vision. The editor-in-chief is intent on making it a regional paper. The Sunday Mirror therefore sees itself competing one-on-one with the Sunday Times rather than any of the local papers. But the new paper will be in direct competition with the Standard , pitting the new media tycoons Trevor Ncube and Strive Masiyiwa. The two papers will be competing for the same readership, as they are ostensibly both for the opposition.
It will be interesting to see if the new paper will take the same line as the Daily News whose founding editor Geoff Nyarota was sacked at the end of last year. Nyarota has been replaced by John Gambanga who is said to be in an acting capacity. Gambanga, it appears, is fighting with the shadow of Nyarota and appears all out to outdo Nyarota even if that means publishing some of the most outrageous stories.
Nyarota has won several awards and has just been awarded a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University. He did not have to apply for the fellowship which normally requires one to have at least six referees. He was recommended for the fellowship by the Committee to Protect Journalists soon after his dismissal because his life was in danger.
Nyarota is said to have escaped to South Africa when he learnt that police were after him when he was dismissed.
Bob Giles, curator of the Nieman Foundation, said “the opportunity to bring Geoff Nyarota to Harvard (would)provide a measure of safety for him and his family as well as call attention to the brutally repressive regime in Zimbabwe that has persisted in its attempts to silence a free and independent press.”
Nyarota won one of the International Press Freedom Awards from the Committee to Protect Journalists in 2001 for his “courage to speak in a silenced land.”
He has won several other awards and it is this shadow or reputation that Gambanga will be competing against. The awards being showered to journalists working in the private media have encouraged more and more to write stories that are likely to get them in trouble as long as this gets them international recognition.