While news of the ban of the planned peaceful demonstration by workers organised by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, and the expulsion of students at the University of Zimbabwe was making headlines, the Posts and telecommunications was quietly censoring the transmission of information believed to be anti-government.
Operators at the Public telex and fax offices in Bulawayo, out of the blue, started reading messages members of the public wanted to send before transmitting them, but there was confusion as to whether this was the new set-up because some did not read the messages.
When confronted by a freelance journalist when this regulation had been brought into effect since he had been sending stories for years without them being read first by the operator, one of the operators said, this was in fact a standing regulation but operators had not been implementing it. They had now been ordered to. She said this was clearly stipulated in the Posts and Telecommunications Act.
While the operator said she was not specifically allowed to transmit messages against the government, she in fact, refused to transmit a story about ZANU-PF being a bad debtor which owed huge sums of money to a Bulawayo company, the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company and the Posts and Telecommunications Corporation.
She only agreed to transmit the story after consulting her supervisor who came to read the message before giving the go ahead. But even after that the operator complained she was sending the message at her own risk since the supervisor was supposed to authorise her to transmit the story in writing and not verbally.
Although the operator did not specify which section of the PTC Act allowed her to refuse to transmit “offensive” messages, investigations by The Insider revealed that this could be under section 40 of the Act. This section reads: “Any telegram or communication that, in the opinion of the Postmaster-General , contains anything which is of a blasphemous, indecent, obscene, offensive or defamatory nature, or repugnant to law or decency shall be refused transmission.”
Ironically, section 41 of the act exempts the PTC from any liability for transmitting such messages. It states: “No liability shall attach to any officer or the Corporation by reason of the officer having, in the course of duty, transmitted or conveyed or taken part in transmitting or conveying a communication or telegram that contains any defamatory matter?”