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Mugabe agreed to rescind Shamu’s appointments

President Robert Mugabe agreed to rescind the appointments of board members to six media parastatals made by Information Minister Webster Shamu after prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai argued that the appointments violated the Global Political Agreement, Gorden Moyo, who was Tsvangirai’s advisor, said.

Shamu had announced appointments to six parastatals including Zimpapers-the publisher of The Herald, The Manica Post and The Chronicle- and Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings.

The appointments included military officials.

 

Full cable:

 

Viewing cable 09HARARE824, INDEPENDENT NEWS DAILIES PREPARE TO PUBLISH

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Reference ID

Created

Classification

Origin

09HARARE824

2009-10-15 09:26

CONFIDENTIAL

Embassy Harare

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Classified By: CDA Donald Petterson for reason 1.4 (d)

 

——-

SUMMARY

——-

 

1. (C) Despite ZANU-PF foot-dragging, the new Media

Commission, with the power to license newspapers, is expected

to be announced shortly. Trevor Ncube, publisher of weekly

papers The Independent and The Standard, plans to begin

publishing a daily, NewsDay. The Daily News, shut down by

the government in 2004, is planning to renew daily

publication under former editor Geoffrey Nyarota. Meanwhile,

MDC ministers are attempting to undo recent appointments of

ZANU-PF loyalists to media boards. END SUMMARY.

 

2. (SBU) MDC sources have told us that upon President Robert

Mugabe’s return from the UNGA, he and Prime Minister Morgan

Tsvangirai met and decided upon the membership of the new

Media Commission which will be responsible inter alia for

licensing newspapers. The chair will be former Zimbabwe

Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) chief executive Henry

Muradzikwa, who was dismissed from the ZBC after the March

2008 elections, apparently for being insufficiently partisan.

 

3. (C) Despite Mugabe’s statement in his speech to

Parliament on October 6, that the establishment of the Media

Commission, as well as the Electoral, Human Rights, and

Anti-Corrupion Commissions, was imminent, its formation has

not been announced. George Charamba, Ministry of Information

permanent secretary and Mugabe spokesperson, recently stated

that the Media Commission would not be announced until

members of the other three commissions had been selected.

(NOTE: Interviews of candidates for the Electoral and Human

Rights Commissions have taken place, but Mugabe and

Tsvangirai have not yet met to select members. END NOTE.) In

a conversation with the Charge on October 14, Deputy Prime

Minister Arthur Mutambara noted there was no legal

requirement that all Commissions be announced simultaneously.

He accused Charamba and others of foot-dragging; they know

that formation of the Media Commission will result in the

publication of independent dailies which will in turn be a

direct threat to the ZANU-PF mouthpiece, The Herald.

(COMMENT: Mutambara acknowledged that the decision to launch

the Media Commission was up to the principals: himself,

Mugabe and Tsvangirai. Given that Mutambara and Tsvangirai

strongly support the Media Commission and independence of the

press, this is an example of Mugabe’s power to frustrate

implementation of the Global Political Agreement (GPA). END

COMMENT.)

 

4. (C) In recent conversations, publisher of The Independent

and The Standard Trevor Ncube has told us of his intention to

publish a daily, NewsDay. Ncube had received legal opinions

that there was no legal basis to prevent him from

publishing–the old Media and Information Commission with

licensing powers was defunct as a result of the GPA–but was

afraid the Ministry of Information could tie him up in court,

Qafraid the Ministry of Information could tie him up in court,

jeopardizing his investment, were he to publish without

official permission. Therefore, he decided to await the

formation of the Media Commission.

 

5. (C) A representative of the Media Development Loan Fund

(www.mdlf.org), which supports Ncube’s Mail and Guardian in

South Africa, visited us last week. She said her

organization is investing $3 million dollars equity in

NewsDay and providing an additional $1 million loan. A used

Swedish printing press is now being set up in Harare and

Ncube would like to begin a print run of 30,000 on November

1. She added that if Ncube had not received Media Commission

approval by November 1, he would wait a reasonable time and

then begin printing even without a license.

 

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6. (C) Geoffrey Nyarota, former editor of the Daily News,

spoke with us this week. Nyarota was fired by publisher

Strive Masiyiwa as a result of labor and financial issues in

2003, a year before the government shut the newspaper down.

Nyarota said Masiyiwa had since divested himself of ownership

by putting the Daily News in a trust, although he still

maintains influence with the trustees. The trust intends to

employ Nyarota as editor-in-chief. He was in Harare to fund

raise for start-up money.

 

7. (C) Nyarota said the Daily News also planned to wait for

Media Commission approval. He stated that the initial print

run would be 50,000 and, because of the name recognition of

the paper, which had a circulation of about 120,000 when it

ceased publishing, and its reputation for tough journalism,

he expected it to eclipse NewsDay and the Herald. (NOTE:

The Herald now has a circulation of about 15,000; The

Independent, published on Fridays and The Standard published

on Sundays have similar circulations. END NOTE.) Nyarota

told us the Daily News had an existing press, but money was a

concern.

 

8. (C) On September 30, Webster Shamu, Minister of

Information, made appointments to six media parastatals

including Zimpapers (the publisher of The Herald, The Manica

Post in Mutare, and The Chronicle in Bulawayo) and Zimbabwe

Broadcasting Holding (television). Appointments included

military officials. According to Tsvangirai advisor Gorden

Moyo, Tsvangirai argued to Mugabe that these appointments

violated the GPA and Mugabe agreed to rescind them.

 

——-

COMMENT

——-

 

9. (C) Charamba told a recent UNESCO-sponsored meeting on

media that publishers of new newspapers who did not have

Media Commission approval would be subject to prosecution.

Charamba appears to be attempting to delay the inevitable.

We believe in the next couple of months, if not sooner,

independent dailies will begin publishing. This will

undoubtedly hurt The Herald, which is not much more than a

ZANU-PF propaganda organ.

 

10. (C) What is less clear is whether the Daily News and

NewsDay will avoid self-censorship and engage in hard-hitting

criticism and investigative journalism to expose corruption

at the highest levels. And if they do so, how will ZANU-PF

react? Also uncertain is whether Zimbabwe can sustain two

dailies, each charging $1 per day, when per capita income is

about the same.

 

11. (C) In the relatively closed media environment of

Zimbabwe, the publication of independent newspapers will be a

significant development. But the major impact will probably

be in urban areas, as distribution to rural areas,

particularly the ZANU-PF stronghold of Mashonaland, will

likely be limited. What would be important in these areas is

radio; at present we are unaware of any efforts to establish

national and independent radio. END COMMENT.

PETTERSON

QPETTERSON

 

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