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Zimbabwe Rights Groups Fear for Media Freedom Before Election

July 25, 2013

By Anita Powell

Election campaign posters are pictured near Zimbabweans walking on a street blocked by uncollected garbage in Harare, July 17, 2013.

Election campaign posters are pictured near Zimbabweans walking on a street blocked by uncollected garbage in Harare, July 17, 2013.

JOHANNESBURG — Zimbabwe’s media landscape has grown in the past year to include several independent media groups that are joining the powerful state broadcaster in reporting on next week’s election. But rights groups say they are still seeing “low-level repression” of journalists.

Rights groups and media watchers agree that Zimbabweans will have more media choices during this election than in previous years.

But more, says the Committee to Protect Journalists, does not necessarily mean better.

In the past 18 months, the government has licensed two new radio stations, says CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Sue Valentine. But, she said, those voices are largely drowned out by state media, which she said clearly favors President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party. Mr. Mugabe will lead his party’s ticket on the July 31 election.

“So there are some chinks in the general armor of silence,” she said. “But state media does remain dominant in terms of its reach around the country.  … If the state broadcaster, if it were behaving according to journalistic ethics, if it were behaving more more like a public broadcaster and offering equal time or proportionate time to different parties, I think then it would not be a problem …  But it is because you have such a slanted state media that I think the problem exists.”

Mugabe, who is 89, has led Zimbabwe since its independence in 1980. He is running again, though a recently approved constitution limits him to just two more five-year terms.

The 2008 elections were marred by violence, which rights groups largely attributed to Mugabe’s security forces. Mugabe agreed to form a power-sharing government with the opposition; with this vote, he seeks to free himself from that troubled pact. Read more at Voice of America.

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