afrol News, 12 March - Local media covering the 9-11 March Zimbabwean presidential elections were seriuosly hindered in doing their job, according to new information. Foreign journalists were at even higher risks; BBC journalists were threatened with prison if caught and one Botswana editor is arrested.
Reports from the media situation under the elections in Zimbabwe are arriving one by one. The general picture is one of systematic harassment by authorities, hindering journalists from covering the important event. Few foreign journalist were accredited to cover the elections, and those in the country did not feel safe.
On 9 March, the Zimbabwean Registrar General, Tobaiwa Mudede, had issued a statement clarifying how journalists were to operate during the elections. While accredited journalists were not allowed to question voters on what they had voted, they were however, in clear words, allowed to enter the polling stations and also to interview voters and poll organisers. These orders, reportedly, were systematically undermined by police officers.
In the rural area of Muzarabani, for example, Andrew Meldrum, a correspondent for British daily 'The Guardian', was questioned by the police and threatened by ruling party supporters. He was asked to leave and denied the chance to interview voters, according to reports from the Zimbabwe Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA).
In the Kuwadzana high-density suburb of Harare, Chris Chinaka and Howard Burdit of the 'Reuters' news agency, Godfrey Marawanyika and Blessing Zulu of the 'Zimbabwe Independent' daily, were threatened by police officers who accused them of inciting violence and causing mayhem at the polling stations, MISA-Zimbabwe stated today.
The Research and Information Officer of MISA-Zimbabwe, Rashweat Mukundu, also had witnessed a female journalist from 'USA Today' being threatened with arrest by a police officer at a polling station in the high-density area of Budiriro. The name of the reporter could not be ascertained as angry voters who thought that she was an election observer were mobbing her as they expressed their displeasure at the manner at which the election was being conducted. The police officer and presiding officer accused the reporter of causing confusion and disturbing the peace at the polling station.
State media journalists, especially from the 'Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation' (ZBC), were also caught up in incidences of violence in Harare's high-density suburbs. Voters in the high-density suburb of Budiriro in Harare beat Reuben Barwe the Chief Correspondent of the ZBC. The voters accused him of reporting negatively about the opposition. On Sunday 10 March, Barwe had to cover the same suburb under police escort.
Meanwhile, the Zimbabwean Minister of State for Information and Publicity, Jonathan Moyo has warned that the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) could be permanently banned from reporting from Zimbabwe. Moyo on 8 March told journalists in Bulawayo he was aware that some BBC reporters had sneaked into the country. "There is a large and divergent media in the country with over 500 journalists, but we are dismayed with reports from the BBC who are boasting that some of its journalists have sneaked into the country," said Moyo.
Moyo said that the conduct of the BBC reporters was illegal and it demonstrated why his Department refused accreditation to the BBC to cover the presidential elections. "Those BBC people are not better than terrorists and that is why they do not deserve to be here," said the Minister. "Those elements if caught might take long to go back to their home country."
The Zimbabwe government refused accreditation to the BBC and many other publications in the world on allegations of biased reporting, reports MISA Researcher Zoe Titus, from Namibia. According to the Department of Information and Publicity over 580 foreign journalists were accredited to cover the elections. "This figure could not be independently verified," Titus says.
Titus also reported today about Moses Oguti, a detained Editor in Chief of a Botswana magazine, 'Trans Kalahari', who had been transferred to Harare Central Prison. Oguti is accused of having entered Zimbabwe illegally and also of misrepresenting information to the police.
Moses Oguti was arrested on 17 February for allegedly entering Zimbabwe illegally through the Forbes Border Post (border between Zimbabwe and Mozambique). It is still not clear if Oguti entered Zimbabwe with the intent to perform media related work. He had apparently told police and immigration officials that he was merely visiting.