Committee to Protect Journalists
Country Report: Zimbabwe
As of December 31, 1998

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Since Zimbabwe's independence in 1980, President Robert Mugabe has maintained a de facto one-party state under the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), whose electoral victories have been bolstered by self-serving campaign laws, crackdowns on the opposition, and state-run media that overshadow the independent press. The government directly controls all broadcasting and a number of daily newspapers, and influences state-owned publications by reviewing editorial policies and appointments.

The constitution contains no explicit protections for freedom of the press. And journalists are keenly aware that the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, which criminalizes receiving official information from unauthorized government officials, and the Parliamentary Privileges and Immunities Act, which has been used to coerce reporters into revealing sources, are weapons at the disposal of the state. The government tightly controls the flow of information, especially about the military.

Only a relatively independent judiciary, strong trade unions, and a small but persistent privately owned independent press keep Mugabe from imposing total autocracy.

In November, there were nationwide strikes staged by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU). The ZCTU protested a 67 percent fuel price hike, claiming that if the government is able to send troops to support President Laurent Kabila in the Congo, it should also provide gasoline subsidies for Zimbabwe's population. Mugabe responded by invoking the Presidential Temporary Measures Act to ban national strikes for six months. On November 18, local journalists and human rights activists protested a news blackout on the state-owned Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation's coverage of the strikes.

At the close of the year, parliament had not passed legislation to liberalize the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation and the other state-controlled broadcast media, in defiance of a 1995 Supreme Court ruling ordering the government to end its monopoly on broadcasting.

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