Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara accused the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Information, George Charamba, of foot-dragging in the formation of a Media Commission because this would result in the publication of independent dailies that would be a direct threat to the ZANU-PF mouthpiece- The Herald.
President Robert Mugabe had announced that the establishment of Electoral, Human Rights, Media and Anti-Corruption Commissions was imminent but Charamba said that the Media Commission would not be announced until members of the other three commissions had been selected.
Mutambara said there was no legal requirement that all commissions be announced simultaneously.
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Classified By: CDA Donald Petterson for reason 1.4 (d)
¶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
¶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
¶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.
¶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.