June 13, 2002

Editors join forces to battle victimisation

Zimbabwe's beleaguered independent media has launched a forum that aims to protect editors against victimisation.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) said in a statement on Thursday that editors of all Zimbabwe's privately owned media houses had launched the Zimbabwe National Editors Forum (ZINEF) in the capital, Harare, on Wednesday, June 12.

ZINEF's interim chairman is Geoff Nyarota, the editor-in-chief of The Daily News. Nyarota and several other journalists have recently been arrested for publishing reports that displeased the government.

However, in the case of American journalist Andrew Meldrum's arrest the charges relate to inaccurate reportage. Meldrum is currently on trial for publishing false information under the country's new access to information laws. Meldrum was arrested after a report he wrote was published in a British newspaper, The Guardian, alleging that members of the ruling party, ZANU-PF, had beheaded the wife of an opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) supporter.

The original publisher of the story, The Daily News, has since apologised to ZANU-PF as the veracity of its story was questionable. The woman's grave cannot be found and the paper suspects that the man claiming to be her husband was paid to fabricate the tale to discredit the paper. Meldrum has pleaded innocent and Daily News reporter, Lloyd Mudiwa, will appear on the same charges next week.

At the launch of ZINEF, Nyarota said that the forum was open to all editors who upheld principles of press freedom. He also said that editors who apply to become members would be subjected to a peer [review] process before the application is approved. ZINEF said that its role would be that of protecting editors against victimisation for carrying out their duty. The forum would also defend and promote media freedom through all available media institutions," MISA said.

ZINEF's executive includes Iden Wetherell, editor of the Zimbabwe Independent, Francis Mdlongwa, editor-in-chief of The Financial Gazette, Bornwell Chakaodza, editor of The Standard and Chiza Ngwira, editor of the monthly magazine, Parade, MISA said. The forum would strive to "nurture media freedom as a democratic value in all communities and at all levels of society. ZINEF will also seek to resist those laws that impose restrictions on the media and freedom of expression and those that are incompatible [with] a democratic society," the statement said.

The Zimbabwe chapter of MISA (MISA-Zimbabwe) welcomed the launch of the forum.

"MISA-Zimbabwe believes that it is through the forum that ... matters that

affect the profession, such as the polarisation currently being witnessed in

the Zimbabwean media, [could be addressed]," the organisation said. (IRIN)

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