Daily News chief executive officer Sam Sipepa Nkomo was optimistic, one year after his paper’s closure, that the paper could resume publication because the government seemed to be opening up the media space in the country but the United States embassy felt Nkomo was overly optimistic.
The embassy argued that there was no way the government was going to allow the Daily News to resume publication before the 2005 parliamentary elections.
It said the first test of the government’s sincerity in opening up media space would be to see it if issued licences to the two “independent” weekly papers, The Independent and the Standard, owned by “media mogul” Trevor Ncube.
Viewing cable 04HARARE1756, GOZ TO OPEN MEDIA SPACE?
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L HARARE 001756
AF/S FOR BNEULING
NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR C. COURVELLE, D. TEITELBAUM
PARIS FOR C. NEARY
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/31/2009
SUBJECT: GOZ TO OPEN MEDIA SPACE?
REF: A. HARARE 1722
¶B. HARARE 988 AND PREVIOUS
Classified By: Classified by Ambassador Dell under reason 1.4 d
¶1. (C) On October 18, CEO Sam Nkomo of The Daily News (TDN),
the independent daily that was closed by the GOZ in September
2003 and has been unsuccessful in its efforts to reopen (ref
B), met with the Charge to discuss the status of TDN’s
consolidated court appeal. Although Nkomo did not identify
his sources, he said he was told that the Supreme Court
decision on the consolidated appeal was being prepared and
would soon be released. Nkomo said he expected the decision
to be in favor of TDN and that senior personnel were
preparing for the paper to resume publishing. Nkomo said he
believed that the decision would be favorable because of the
recent trend of court decisions being made independent of the
Executive, and because the GOZ was trying to cultivate a
favorable image internationally.
¶2. (C) Nkomo expressed concern, however, that if the
decision were favorable, the GOZ would find another way to
shut the paper down. The Daily News has been operating an
online version but has not made any income at all since the
paper ceased publishing a print version. Nkomo said he
feared that the GOZ could declare the paper insolvent and
shut it down as a result.
¶3. (C) The potential reopening of The Daily News would be a
significant occurrence in the lead up to the March
Parliamentary elections. Since the GOZ closed TDN, the
opposition MDC has had severely limited access to the media.
Last month Minister for Justice, Parliamentary, and Legal
Affairs Patrick Chinamasa publicly announced that the GOZ was
drafting guidelines for access to government media by
political parties in compliance with SADC election
principles. During the last two weeks, however, Chinamasa
and Information Minister Jonathan Moyo have publicly
suggested that guidelines would only apply to “loyal” parties
who were contesting elections, implicitly excluding the
opposition MDC as long as it continued its conditional
suspension of participation.
¶4. (C) Nkomo’s confidence in a favorable court decision
appears overly optimistic. Even assuming that the High
Court’s recent acquittal of MDC President Morgan Tsvangirai
reflects increasing judicial independence (which is
questionable, ref A), the Supreme Court, by contrast, has
been more overtly oriented towards the GOZ. Moreover, even
if Nkomo is correct and the Supreme Court upholds the
numerous lower court judgments in TDN’s favor, the newspaper
still could be shut down under the pretext of violations of
ordinary financial laws, or the Media and Information
Commission could block publishing of the paper under its
authority, independent of the Court’s decision. There is no
credible evidence the GOZ is willing to allow independent
press to operate in advance of the March 2005 elections, and,
thus, it seems unlikely that The Daily News would be allowed
to publish before then. It is more likely that the GOZ will
satisfy its ostensible commitment to SADC election principles
by opening the official media marginally and belatedly to the
opposition–and even then only if the MDC agrees to
participate in the elections. An upcoming test of the GOZ’s
posture towards freedom of press will be its decisions in
December on license renewals for the two independent weekly
newspapers, the Independent and the Standard. Note: Both of
the weeklies are owned by Zimbabwean media mogul, Trevor
Ncube, who resides in South Africa and also owns the Mail and
Guardian there. END COMMENT.