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Marking Press Day, Zimbabwe Information Minister Vows Media Crackdown

Lack of unity in Zimbabwe's shaky coalition government was at its worst Thursday with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Information Minister Webster Shamu at great variance in their Press Freedom Day speeches in the capital.

While Mr. Tsvangirai called on his ruling partner, President Robert Mugabe to fire Shamu for failing to implement reforms he says they agreed on, the information minister was threatening a crackdown on the media over what he called sensational and inaccurate reporting.

His threats were based on recent stories over President Mugabe's health that made international headlines.

Mr. Tsvangirai opted to speak at an event sponsored by the Media Institute of Southern Africa, where he chastised Shamu for being arrogant, saying his actions were derailing government efforts to reform the media ahead of possible elections this year or early next year.

Shamu on the other hand was the main speaker at commemorations organized by the Zimbabwe Media Commission.

Mr. Tsvangirai said ZANU-PF officials in the government thought that implementing reforms meant conceding power.

"We have a ministry that spends more time thinking about how it should curtail information rather than how it should disseminate it," he said to applause.

Said Mr. Tsvangirai on media reforms: "Sadly, the responsible ministry has chosen not to make the pubic media reflect the new inclusive dispensation and to provide a platform for divergent views in line with the dictates of the GPA,"

"The responsible Ministry has also chosen not to comply with the instructions of Cabinet and the Principals of the inclusive government to reconstitute the boards of the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe, the ZBC and the Mass Media Trust," Mr. Tsvangirai added.

"In short, media reforms remain in limbo regardless of the fact that they are part of those key reforms that are necessary in creating a democratic society especially as we go towards an election that must produce an uncontested outcome."

The Premier said as a result the government has not only failed to deal with the battery of repressive laws that stand in the way of media freedom but also failed to bring in the necessary legislation that would promote press freedom.

For his part, Shamu said: "If the clearly anti-African and anti-Zimbabwe frenzy we have experienced through some media outlets and platforms in this country continues, and if the conspiracy of silence within the media industry and profession also persists, the gloves may soon be off here as well."

He said journalists should report truthfully and be investigated when they lie as is the case with other professions.

Critics said Shamu's warning could be an attempt to intimidate journalists ahead of elections that President Mugabe and hardliners in ZANU-PF want this year.

Many, however, say elections are only possible next year. Mr. Tsvangirai reiterated his party's position that elections will only be called once democratic reforms have been fully implemented.

For perspective on World Freedom Day and challenges in Zimbabwe's media, VOA's Tatenda Gumbo turned to former reporters Supa Mandiwanzira and Pedzisai Ruhanya, who disagree on where the country is now in terms of media plurality and reforms.