Strict screening for journalists and observers begins

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The Zimbabwean government is screening foreign journalists before letting them into the country before this month’s elections, amid suspicion that some may be spying for hostile Western nations.

from our correspondent in Harare

At least 300 foreign journalists have applied for accreditation under Zimbabwe’s sweeping media laws.

Priority to Africans

But priority is being given to journalists from Africa and other developing
nations that are sending election monitors.

Zimbabwe’s government has barred Western observers from monitoring the March 29 vote. Western media organizations.

Government spokesman George Charamba says each application would be carefully scrutinized. “We have a team drawn from the ministries of information, foreign affairs and the security arms that are examining each and every application,”

“We are mindful of attempts to turn journalists into observers and security personnel from hostile countries,” he said. “Those will be flushed out.”

Critics have accused Zimbabwe of trying to keep out Western reporters by delaying them from making travel bookings and other planning arrangements.

Hotel cancelations for Westerners

Leading hotels have said provisional bookings by some media organizations have been canceled on Foreign Ministry orders, saying rooms were needed for invited observers from Africa and mainly developing countries regarded as friendly toward Zimbabwe.

Local independent monitoring groups say election preparations have been chaotic with chronic shortages of gasoline, food and other basic goods amid the nation’s economic meltdown. Official inflation is by far the highest in the world at 100,500 percent.

For the first time, Zimbabweans will vote in presidential, parliament and
local council elections on a single day at about 11,000 polling stations
countrywide – up from 4,000 polling stations in the last parliament vote in

Conflict zone journalists

Charamba claims that main Western media organizations wanted to send their senior correspondents straight from Iraq and Kenya, where more than 1000 people died in recent post election unrest.

“It is as if Zimbabwe is a war about to start. There is an expectation of
blood in the streets, which explains the deployment of war correspondents and cameramen. It’s a way to psyche the world against the results to justify the continuation of sanctions.” Charamba also alleged there was “a strange alliance” between competing Western media networks over Zimbabwe.

“What this suggests is a shared objective. The story from Zimbabwe has to be uniformly echoed for propaganda purposes,” he said.


Among the applicants are satellite television stations, free to air television stations, specialist television channels that deal with financial news, internet channels, cable networks, tabloids, broadsheets, think-tanks that specialise in conflict and post-conflict studies, television footage services and still picture services.

Charamba said preference in terms of accreditation would be given to media organisations that were already accredited to work in the country, but those being deployed from outside should work strictly under the leadership of the bureaux chiefs stationed here.

International media organisations already working in the country are AP, AFP, Reuters, Al Jazeera and SABC.

The SABC wants to send the largest contingent of 65 journalists followed by e-TV, which wants to deploy 26 journalists. The BBC wants to deploy 17 while Security Watch Africa has requested to send four journalists.

Zimbabwe has barred official observer delegations from its former colonial ruler Britain, as well as from the European Union and the United States, saying they backed the opposition and so would automatically declare any victory for Mugabe’s faction to not be free or fair.

Elections in 2002 and 2005 won by Mugabe’s ruling party were marred by administrative chaos, allegations of vote rigging, irregularities in voters’ lists and charges that violence and political intimidation influenced voting.

On March 29, Mugabe, 84, is facing his biggest electoral challenge since the country’s 1980 independence, as his party is being challenged by groups led by former finance minister and ruling party loyalist Simba Makoni, 57, and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, 55.

Makoni draws his support from ruling party rebels and disillusioned
supporters of the fractured opposition Movement for Democratic Change,
mostly in urban areas.

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