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Gentlemen of the press

Every year journalists in Zimbabwe, including locals, have to go through the tedious task of obtaining press cards. Without, one, the authorities say, one cannot practise in Zimbabwe.

Some Zimbabweans working for international organisations have had their press cards withdrawn to prevent them from writing “adverse” stories but one vowed he would continue filing without it since it was him and not the card that wrote the stories.

For the sake of maintaining order and knowing who is doing what, there appears to be nothing wrong with the system. But at times the process one has to go through, especially if one has lost his previous card, turns the whole exercise into a form of torture, especially if the officers who issue the cards do not know you.

One has to produce a letter from one’s employer saying one is employed in such-and-such a capacity but despite this there still can be problems.

The good news -and probably one of the few benefits from the CHOGM meeting of last October- is that local journalists were this year given a three year “permit” if you could call it that. Quite a relief and for one thing the new cards are nice.

The ministry probably allowed the three years because it may run out of instant film, or the camera might break down. The last such cards were issued in the early 80s and the camera was reported to have broken down for some seven to eight years.

The major problem now will be if one loses the card. It will be like trying to get a new passport.

One disturbing thing, though, is that despite the seemingly honest approach some cards are being issued to non-journalists. Most of these unfortunately, are “spooks”. So if one were to ask the ministry how many local journalists there are the figure may be distorted because you will have journalists in almost every town.

Most of the people who abuse this vital card are from the CIO. This is not a secret as the officers who issue the cards are usually openly heard complaining that the CIO is asking for too many cards.

Since the press card should bear the name of one’s media organisation one wonders what these guys put one their cards. Obviously they cannot give the name of their organisation as this will not serve any purpose. This then drives one to ask whose organisations do they use? Could it not reasonably be inferred that they could be using the names of very innocent newspapers?

One officer has, for example, said press cards were issued to two photographers who claimed to be working for The Insider. Funny isn’t it since The Insider has only carried one picture so far and a reprint for that matter.

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