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Dell trashed Sipepa Nkomo’s enthusiasm on opening media space?

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.

 

Full cable:

 

Viewing cable 04HARARE1756, GOZ TO OPEN MEDIA SPACE?

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Reference ID

Created

Released

Classification

Origin

04HARARE1756

2004-10-21 13:01

2011-08-30 01:44

CONFIDENTIAL

Embassy Harare

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

 

SIPDIS

 

AF/S FOR BNEULING

NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR C. COURVELLE, D. TEITELBAUM

PARIS FOR C. NEARY

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/31/2009

TAGS: PGOV PHUM KPAO ZI

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.

 

COMMENT

—————–

 

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.

DELL

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