News24

Biti calls for urgent media reform

2010-03-28 16:27

Harare - Zimbabwe, whose main daily newspaper is state owned and biggest private papers are weeklies, should speed up registration of newspapers to boost democratic reforms, a senior cabinet minister said on Saturday.

Finance Minister Tendai Biti told a pan-African journalists' conference that Zimbabwe lagged other countries in establishing a legal and political environment conducive for a free press.

But he said the southern African state - whose media is dominated by the government and whose laws bar foreign journalists from working long-term in the country - would correct this through a new constitution being drafted and the recently formed Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC).

"I hope the ZMC will begin to do their work in earnest, begin to move fast in registering (new) newspapers," he said, adding that Zimbabwe should also end the state's monopoly in television and radio broadcasting.

"The media is the guardian angel of democracy. It keeps in check those holding political power," he said.

Slow pace of reforms

Biti - secretary-general of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) which formed a power-sharing government with veteran President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF a year ago - said the current media environment reflected the slow pace of reforms all round.

"But the good news is that we have begun to take decisive steps to extricate ourselves," he said.

A Unesco representative at the conference said the organisation was prepared to help the ZMC in its work to improve the media environment, including training journalists.

"Unesco stands ready to assist. Bad journalism should never be used as an excuse to denying freedom of expression," said Mogens Schmidt, a deputy assistant director in the UN agency.

The ZMC said last week it would soon start licensing private newspapers as part of reforms agreed by the power-sharing government.

Under Mugabe's Zanu-PF administration, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, a state-appointed body used stringent media laws to police the newspaper industry, forcing several titles to close.

Critics say the new media commission is moving slowly in its work at the behest of Zanu-PF, a charge the organisation denies.