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Zimbabwe Media Advocates Criticize Launch of New State-Run Newspaper

Zimbabwean media activists are protesting the launch of a new state-owned newspaper this week by the Ministry of Information, saying the move undercuts media reform.

The state-controlled Zimbabwe Newspapers holding company launched a new paper called the Harare Metro. Observers speculated that the tabloid was launched to bolster the position of state media before more privately operated competitors enter the marketplace.

Private-sector publishing houses such as ZimInd Publishers, which puts out the Independent and Standard weekly newspapers, have been waiting for more than six months for licenses. So the Metro launch brought objections that the law is being applied selectively.

Banned papers like The Daily News, shut down in 2003 by the Zimbabwe Media Commission, remain off the streets despite calls for the government to restore their licenses.

Speaking at the launch of the newspaper, Media and Information Minister Webster Shamu offered the explanation that ZimPapers as a state entity did not need to apply for a licence – though he contended that Harare Metro is not owned by the state.

"My ministry does not register publishers. Equally, my ministry will not condone the breaking of the law," said Shamu. "This same position we have communicated to ZimInd, another publisher intent on joining the industry."

Attacking radio stations such as VOA's Studio 7 which broadcast from outside the country, Shamu declared that the operation of such stations violated the Global Political Agreement for power sharing signed by his ZANU-PF and both MDC formations in September 2008.

"What must...stop is the continuing situation where some parties in the GPA continue to aid and abet illegal, extraterritorial pirate broadcasts which violate our sovereignty in the name of media freedoms," Shamu said. "These stations – all of them sited in countries that have slapped Zimbabwe with sanctions – are a violation of the GPA."

The Zimbabwe chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa issued a statement saying the latest expansion of state publishing will handicap other media players.

Former journalist Pedzisai Ruhanya, program manager of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, told Studio 7 reporter Sandra Nyaira that the government is abusing its media powers.

MISA-Zimbabwe Chairman Loughty Dube told Studio 7 reporter Brenda Moyo that media laws are being abused to favor ZimPapers at the expense of independent publications.

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