afrol News, 21 May - Geoffrey Nyarota, the editor-in-chief of the famous private daily paper in Zimbabwe, 'The Daily News' was arrested yesterday, May 20, on allegations of having published falsehoods hence breaching provisions of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
Nyarota was picked up by the police around 10h00 at 'The Daily News' offices (local time). He was released five hours later on the same day. His arrest was in connection with the story published by 'The Daily News' of April 23, 2002, that said that two young girls had witnessed the decapitation of their mother by alleged ruling party, Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) supporters in Magunje in the province of Mashonaland West.
Lawrence Chibwe of Stumbles and Rowe the lawyer representing, Nyarota, told Zimbabwe chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Zimbabwe) that the editor had been arrested and charged under section 80 (1b) of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act for having authorized the publication of falsehoods without verifying the facts.
The new media law places stringent measures on the media and if convicted journalists face a fine of Z$ 100,000 (approx US$ 1800) or up to two years in jail or both.
Chibwe was not sure when Nyarota was going to be tried but said that the police were going to proceed by way of summons when they are through with their investigations.
'The Daily News', in a front-page story on 27 April, apologised to the ruling party, ZANU-PF, and to the government for having damaged the reputation of the party after it was revealed that the husband of the victim might have misled the paper. The paper said that it was misled by its source who it alleged had not been sincere.
- The apology is in line with the requirements of the Access to Information and Protection of privacy Act, which state that a publication must issue a retraction and apology in the event of its story(s) being proven wrong, MISA researcher Zoe Titus says. The police however went on to arrest several journalists despite the apology. The journalists have also argued that there was no intention to lie in what they wrote but that they were genuinely misled.
After 'The Daily News' published the questionable story on 23 April, it was picked up by the world press. The Zimbabwean government has since arrested several journalists for reporting the story, including Zimbabweans Lloyd Mudiwa, Collin Chiwanza and correspondent for the British "Guardian", Andrew Meldrum.
A magistrate court in Harare ruled on 7 May that Mudiwa and Meldrum have a case to answer. The two were remanded out of custody to 22 May. Charges against the other accused, Collin Chiwanza were dropped.
Editor Geoffrey Nyarota has become a prominent personality in the 'Daily News' led fight to secure press freedom in Zimbabwe. On behalf of his independent newspaper, Nyarota has received six international media awards this year, last at the international celebrations of World Press Freedom Day in Manila 3 May. The next award for the 'Daily News' will be given Nyarota at the World Newspaper Congress and World Editors Forum, to be held in Belgium from 26 to 29 May.