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State Media Embroiled in Zimbabwe's Election 'Harmonization' Debate

Editors in Zimbabwean state-controlled media organizations have come under pressure to follow the ruling party's line in the covering an ongoing debate about the schedule for presidential and parliamentary elections in 2008-2010.

Media sources said Acting Information Minister Paul Mangwana called a meeting on Monday of state media editors and ordered them to put a positive spin on proposals from the ruling ZANU-PF party to put off the presidential election that would normally be held in 2008 until 2010, when parliamentary elections are to be held.

Proponents of such a move say it is in the interest of "harmonization," bringing the schedules for presidential and parliamentary elections into synch, though perhaps not incidentally this would extend the term of President Robert Mugabe by two years. This would also postpone a potentially bruising succession battle within ZANU-PF.

Thus "harmonization" rather than the Mugabe succession is at the top of the agenda for the ZANU-PF annual congress set to open Wednesday in Goromonzi.

Sources present at Mangwana's meeting with editors said he was particularly critical of the Herald newpaper, saying it was too critical of the government and officials.

But Information Ministry Permanent Secretary George Charamba, a spokesman for Mr. Mugabe, is said to have argued that journalists need freedom to write accurate stories to avoid sending Zimbabweans into the arms of independent media.

Political and social commentator Chido Makunike told reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that ZANU-PF desperately needs a docile state media to paper over its current disarray on the issue of who will succeed Mugabe.

More reports from VOA'S Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...