- Zimbabwean authorities have refused accreditation to the South Africa-based 'Talk Radio 702' and '567 CapeTalk' radio stations to cover 31 March general elections in Zimbabwe. No official reasons were given for the refusal, but Zimbabwean officials had described the broadcasters as being "hostile". Meanwhile, severe restrictions remain in place for Zimbabwe's own press.
The South African radio stations were informed of the decision on 23 March, in a short refusal without any stated reasons. A statement released by Primedia, the owner of the sister stations, indicated that a senior Zimbabwean Information Department official had reportedly described 'Talk Radio 702' as being "hostile" towards Zimbabwe.
The station was also refused accreditation to cover the last presidential election. This year, 'Talk Radio 702' and '567 CapeTalk' applied for permission to cover the elections simultaneously.
In response to the decision, news editor Katy Katopodis of 'Talk Radio 702' commented: "This is a blow to media freedom and makes it harder to report the truth on the ground. We applied to have three journalists in the country to cover pre- and post-election issues." Ms Katopodis added: "Irrespective of whether we are allowed in or not, '702 Eyewitness News' will continue to report on the situation in Zimbabwe. We will not be muzzled."
Yusuf Abramjee, the group head of Primedia Broadcasting's news and talk programming, said, "Not to allow independent stations like 702 and 567 into Zimbabwe raises serious questions about whether the elections will be free and fair. We are disappointed at the Zimbabwean government's decision, and are being inundated with calls from listeners and NGO's who have expressed shock at the decision."
'567 CapeTalk' news editor Charlotte Kilbane said, "We will continue to follow developments closely and keep our listeners informed of the changing situation in what will prove to be an important election for our northern neighbour. The Zimbabwean government may be able to block its borders to us, but information can't be managed and the truth will come out."
According to the Windhoek-based Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), the accreditation refusal for the two South African broadcasters falls within a pattern of media censorship in Zimbabwe ahead of the legislative elections tomorrow. Foreign journalists have been made to leave the country or denied access, while Zimbabwe's independent press faces constant repression.
Only last month, three journalists, Jan Raath and Brian Latham, who work for a number of British and South African news organisations, and Angus Shaw, of the Associated Press, left Zimbabwe after their offices were raided and they were interrogated by police about allegations that they broke the country's media and security laws. Following their departure, only a handful of foreign correspondents remain in Zimbabwe, including the tiny Reuters and AFP bureaux.
Earlier this month the government-controlled Media and Information Commission cancelled the Zimbabwean independent 'Weekly Times' newspaper's licence. The 'Weekly Times' was the fourth independent newspaper to be closed in Zimbabwe since 2002. The 'Daily News', the 'Daily News on Sunday' and the 'Tribune' were all closed previously.
During the last few years, Zimbabwe's legislation regulating the press has increasingly grown more draconian. In January this year, President Robert Mugabe signed a law requiring journalists to be accredited by the government. The government now has close to total control with the media and only the weeklies 'The Standard' and 'The Independent' still report news critical to the regime.
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