Hijacked

It's now more than two months since the Daily News saga began. When the country's most popular newspaper was shut down on September 13 following a Supreme Court ruling that it had been operating illegally for nine months because it had not registered with the Media and Information Commission, most people thought the closure was just temporary.

Even the owners of the newspaper believed the shut down was temporary. They thought that all they needed to do was go to the commission and apply for registration, get their licence and they were back in business. But having defied the law for nine months, authorities seemed to have other plans. They probably wanted to teach the Daily News and any other newspaper owner a lesson.

The saga has now moved from the newsroom to the courts. According to Daily News lawyer Gugulethu Moyo the closure of the Daily News was a big coup for the government. She told the Globe and Mail of Canada: "They're enjoying this a lot; they get a lot of power out of not having the Daily News on the streets exposing their violations."

While this maybe true, Moyo, too, is getting a lot of mileage from the closure. The newspaper's more than 300 employees are now playing second fiddle. Moyo has stolen the limelight even from newspaper owner Strive Masiyiwa and Associated Newspaper of Zimbabwe chief executive Samuel Siphepha Nkomo. She has turned into a prolific writer earning bylines mostly in the South Africa media which will give voice to anyone who wants to bash Mugabe.

She has granted interviews to radio and television stations all over the world. A google web search on Moyo shows that there are 1 140 entries on her. A google news search reveals there were 55 stories on her in November alone. The closure of the Daily News also seems to be giving its owner Strive Masiyiwa the publicity he needs. Masiyiwa, who rose to international fame after winning the Econet cellular phone licence through the Supreme Court, is once again banking on the same system to bail him out.

Ironically, though it was the Supreme Court that ruled that his papers were operating illegally, the closure is being blamed on Mugabe who, "after winning a highly disputed election...set out to rewrite the country's constitution, giving himself yet more power....ramm(ing) a new law through parliament, making it illegal to make or print derogatory remarks about the president or the armed forces, and creat(ing) another law to force all newspapers to be licensed by the state".

Now often referred to as the "Bill Gates of Africa", the closure of his newspaper empire in Zimbabwe is giving Masiyiwa the necessary break he needs as his telecommunications empire seems to be crumbling in Nigeria and Kenya. And it looks the welfare of the newspapers' employees comes second, though on paper, he has promised to look after them. He even promised to pay employees their salaries for two years, but Nkomo, who was running the newspapers said this was a tall order.

Nkomo told Online Journalism Review : "I don't know how that might be possible... I think Masiyiwa said that hoping that some donors or friends might come in and help." It is not clear whether friends have come in to help. The only way they seem to have come in to help is to establish a web site hosted in South Africa but reports say it only employs one or two people yet the Daily News employed more than 300.

Besides, according to OJR, less than 1 percent of Zimbabwe's population has access to the internet. This means the web edition of the Daily News is mostly for Zimbabweans living abroad but perhaps more importantly it is targeted at the international community, especially donors, and not the one million readers of the printed edition who reside in the country. Besides, the web edition is a far cry from the printed edition.

Though Masiyiwa promised to pay his employees for two years, there is already friction between the employees and management. Management has just ordered the employees to stop using the newspapers offices because they are misusing phones. Nkomo said the organisation had also lost some equipment like laptops. Surprisingly, one of the reasons the employees were being barred from the newspaper offices was that some of them were spying on the company.

Nkomo was quoted by the Financial Gazette as saying: "We also know that most of those who do not want to stay at home are employed by other people either as moles or anything so they would want to keep their ears to the ground and this is why they are resisting...( to stop coming to the office)."

While the saga continues, readers anxiously wait. And it is likely to be a long, long wait.

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