A British Broadcasting Corporation correspondent who had been allowed to work in Zimbabwe with her team said the government still wanted to control reporting activities and two known Central Intelligence Organisation handlers were present all the time.
Firle Davies said she had also received threatening calls and text messages which she believed were from the CIO.
The BBBC and CNN were allowed to come back to Zimbabwe to report from the country soon after the formation of the inclusive government.
The government was also encouraging publisher Trevor Ncube to launch a daily paper.
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SUBJECT: BBC AND CNN ALLOWED BACK IN ZIMBABWE, BUT KEPT ON
Classified By: CDA Katherine Dhanani for reason 1.4 (b)
¶1. (SBU) After an eight-year ban, in an effort to help
repair the country’s battered image, the ZANU-PF led Ministry
of Media, Information and Publicity (MMIP) has given
permission to the BBC and CNN to report from within Zimbabwe.
A BBC crew has been openly reporting from Zimbabwe since
July 25, but has been closely shadowed by security officers.
Separately, the ministry has encouraged — but not granted a
license to — an independent publisher to begin production of
a daily newspaper to compete with the State-controlled
mouthpieces, The Herald in Harare and Chronicle in Bulawayo.
Media and civic society observers believe the seeming media
relaxation is disingenuous and is merely an attempt to
portray ZANU-PF in a reformist light and encourage
international engagement and investment. The GOZ’s sincerity
about media freedom will quickly be tested as the BBC and CNN
are intent on avoiding manipulation. END SUMMARY.
Is This What Media Freedom Looks Like?
¶2. (C) Firle Davies of the BBC’s Johannesburg bureau is
leading a small team of three to four journalists that since
July 25 has been reporting on a variety of Zimbabwean issues
from within the country, including the performance of the
inclusive government, rule of law, and land reform. Davies
told us that their visit had been approved by Webster Shamu,
the Minister of Media, Information and Publicity (MMIP), and
George Charamba, the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary. Davies
suspected the approval ultimately came because BBC said that
their plan was to report on national reconciliation issues.
¶3. (SBU) In letters to both media organizations reflecting
recent discussions within the Ministry, the government
officials somewhat absurdly contended that CNN and BBC had
never been banned. The letter to the BBC reads: “For the
purposes of the record, I restate the main points of our
meeting. We acknowledged the need to put behind us the
mutually ruinous relationship of the past.”
¶4. (C) Despite the positive tone, the Ministry appears
intent on controlling the reporting activities of the BBC
team, according to Davies. Since their arrival, they have
had two known Central Intelligence Organization (CIO)
handlers present at all times. Additionally, Davies has been
receiving threatening phone calls and text messages that she
assumes are from the CIO.
¶5. (C) Davies was doubtful the arrangement would last long
and cited a heated argument that erupted during an interview
with ZANU-PF National Chairman John Nkomo on July 28 where
the CIO handlers began shouting that the BBC team would
interview who they (the CIO) wanted and on issues of which
they approved. Davies made clear that the BBC was not
Qthey approved. Davies made clear that the BBC was not
interested in being manipulated by the government.
¶6. (C) Kim Norgaard of CNN’s Johannesburg bureau confirmed
on July 29 that he had met with Shamu and Charamba in person
last week and had also been told that CNN was welcome to
report from Zimbabwe and had never been banned. Norgaard was
told that CNN would have to register with the MMIP prior to
entering the country, but his plan was to inform them upon
arrival. Norgaard did not indicate when CNN would arrive,
HARARE 00000626 002 OF 003
and said that most likely they would merely maintain local
correspondents rather than opening a Harare-based bureau.
For controversial stories, CNN would bring in a foreign
correspondent to mitigate the risk of intimidation of local
staff. He said that any attempts by the State to intimidate
them or limit their reporting would become part of the story.
Media Ministry Encourages Independent Daily
¶7. (C) In another indication that the MMIP is rethinking its
strategy regarding independent media, the ministry recently
encouraged independent publisher Zimind to begin publication
of a daily newspaper. Trevor Ncube, the CEO of Zimind —
publishers of The Zimbabwe Independent and The Standard —
said that he had a meeting with Shamu and Charamba on July 24
during which he was told that he could submit an application
allowing the formation of his proposed daily newspaper,
NewsDay. Shamu told him he had checked with Attorney General
Johannes Tomana, who verified that the application and
subsequent newspaper would be legal, even though the
regulatory Media Commission was still being formed by
Parliament. Ncube told us his lawyers had advised him there
was no legal impediment to publishing — a license or
official approval was not necessary — but that he probably
would not publish unless he gets some kind of government
approval such as written authorization from the MMIP.
Another potential new newspaper, the Evening Gazette, claims
it was awarded a license late last year from the now defunct
Media and Information Commission. The Evening Gazette is
backed by Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono, who also owns a
stake in the weekly Financial Gazette.
Civil Society and Journalists Highly Skeptical
¶8. (C) There is considerable skepticism from civil society
members and journalists about the sincerity of officials at
the MMIP to free up media space. Takura Zhangazha, the
director of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), an
NGO that promotes media freedoms across the southern Africa
region, viewed these initial steps as “playing to the
gallery” and designed to give the impression that ZANU-PF was
pro-reform. He also viewed it as an effort to improve the
country’s image and attract international investment. He
suspected that the tenures of BBC and CNN would be
short-lived once they began publishing or broadcasting
critical pieces. Davies and Norgaard agreed and believed
that the Ministry thought they could control the
international press outlets by only accrediting local
journalists who might be more susceptible to intimidation.
Few Appicants for Media Commission
QFew Applicants for Media Commission
¶9. (C) As called for in the Global Political Agreement
(GPA), Parliament is in the process of selecting candidates
for the Media, Human Rights, Anti-Corruption, and Electoral
commissions. Xolani Zitha, the Director of the Speaker’s
Office in Parliament, told poloff that the media commission
was suffering from a lack of pro-democracy candidates due to
MISA’s boycotting of the process. Zitha said that Parliament
only had 24 applications for that commission while some of
the other commissions had in excess of two hundred candidates.
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¶10. (C) After years of media repression and biased
State-controlled reporting, we are also highly skeptical of
what superficially appear to be steps towards promoting media
freedoms. Two days after the BBC crew entered the country,
President Robert Mugabe, while in Uganda attending the Smart
Partnership Dialogue, resumed his attack on the BBC and CNN.
The State-controlled New Vision in Uganda reported that he
questioned the two media groups, impartiality. Mugabe’s
criticism of media is usually succeeded by stringent
¶11. (C) If BBC and CNN are allowed to establish
correspondents, we suspect only local journalists will be
accredited, they will be closely monitored, and will be
subject to intimidation and harassment. If they portray
ZANU-PF in a negative light, they will likely be charged
criminally and their outlets banned. END COMMENT.