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BBC correspondent complained about CIO meddling

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.

 

Full cable:

 

Viewing cable 09HARARE626, BBC AND CNN ALLOWED BACK IN ZIMBABWE, BUT KEPT ON

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Reference ID

Created

Released

Classification

Origin

09HARARE626

2009-07-30 15:04

2011-08-30 01:44

CONFIDENTIAL

Embassy Harare

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TAGS: PGOV PHUM OEXC KPAO ZI

SUBJECT: BBC AND CNN ALLOWED BACK IN ZIMBABWE, BUT KEPT ON

SHORT LEASH

 

Classified By: CDA Katherine Dhanani for reason 1.4 (b)

 

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SUMMARY

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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.

 

——-

 

HARARE 00000626 003 OF 003

 

 

COMMENT

——-

 

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

controls.

 

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.

 

DHANANI

(22 VIEWS)

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