Zimbabwe Censorship Criticized
Thursday, June 11, 1998
SUMMARY: No government in southern Africa has its thumb on the media
like that of Zimbabwe, and international anti-censorship activists note that the treatment
of lesbians and gays is a prime example.
The London-based anti-censorship group Article 19 issued a report this week saying that
Zimbabwe leads southern Africa in government control of media, and particularly noting its
use for uncontested verbal gay-bashing. Article 19 is named for the section on freedom of
expression in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The group said the government had
used mass media "to promote a climate of intolerance," noting that the
government-controlled "Herald" newspaper ran advertisements urging the death
penalty for sodomy convictions and seeking to "mobilize Zimbabweans against sexual
perverts," but denied gays and lesbians the chance either to reply or to place their
own ads on the grounds that it was "a family newspaper."
The government controls most of the press (and constantly practices legal harassment
against the financially-struggling independent press, according to Article 19) and all of
radio, television, and telecommunications (with some of the lowest per capita access and
worst maintenance record in the world), including attempts to control Internet access. As
public protest against the government has grown and intensified in recent months, the
government has exerted more stringent controls on reporting, including reprimanding and
firing broadcasters and replacing the "Herald" newspaper's editor with President
Robert Mugabe's nephew (who died shortly afterwards), and even ordering the manner in
which stories should be presented (although one government official flatly denied those
charges). And Article 19 says that although the courts have staunchly defended the
constitution, the government has had no qualms about responding to lost court cases by
amending the constitution at will to suit its own ends. The upshot is that Zimbabweans
have little unbiased information about goings-on in their own country. Article 19 fears
there will be increasingly serious human rights violations.
Article 19 also welcomed some recent proposals from the Ministry of Justice for reform of
media law and protections for freedom of expression, but called them first steps and said
more was necessary.
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