Press freedom in Zimbabwe is a very serious situation, Reporters Without Borders concluded in their 2007 country report. The government of Robert Mugabe has shut down independent newspapers. Radio signals from outside the country have been jammed. Internet is slow and not reliable. Inflation is skyrocketing.
Conrad Dube, a Zimbabwean journalist, a participant at the just ended advanced course on Multimedia and Online Journalism in Berlin, Germany. His colleague from Ghana, Kent Mensah of Africanews.com caught up with him for his experience covering news under a government that loves to hate the press flourishing.
Briefly tell us about your journalism background
For the past six years I have been operating in Zimbabwe as a journalist. I have worked for the Zimbabwean Independent weekly and daily newspapers which were closed by the government in 2003.
What is the current state of press freedom in Zimbabwe?
Press freedom in Zimbabwe is in intensive care because we have seen the closure of newspapers like the Daily News on Sunday and the Daily News proper, The Tribune and Joy TV. We have seen the mutilation of the free press that was available in Zimbabwe.
Have you personally suffered any humiliation under this regime?
The traumatic experience that I went through when I got to the office in October 2003 when the Daily News was closed down by the government and having to find armed police men; taking you into the foyer and they were not friendly at all. They take you to the newsroom and scan through your notebooks and the computers. It was so traumatic and until now I am traumatized.
Has the government tried closing down your blog and blocking internet access in the country?
The government at some point engaged Chinese to try and snoop into our emails and also to close down the free internet access that we have. It has also gone on a clash with some of the mobile operators which are offering gateway services because they wanted everything to pass through the government. But we don’t know whether this worked or if by now they are still snooping into our emails. There was a Bill passed by Parliament to that effect.
What motivates you to keep writing and still remain in Zimbabwe?
I live in a very difficult situation; imagine you wake up as a citizen and you don’t find what you want from the shops. Even with the few Zimbabwe dollars in your pocket you can’t find the food in the shelves; you can’t find transport and medication. If you are lucky to find a doctor at the hospital the prices they charge you are astronomical. Whatever prescription he gives you can’t find it and you have to resort to the private pharmacies – very expensive. I live in this situation so I have to tell this situation to the rest of the world. I feel my obligation is to inform other Zimbabweans outside what is happening in our dear country.
What advice do you have for your colleague journalists staying and living in Zimbabwe now?
Stick to the ethics of journalism. But be bold. Tell the Zimbabwean story. You are not saying anything bad; you are not saying anything good. You are just saying it as it is; that is my advice.
How would you rate the performance of the Western media in terms of their reportage on Zimbabwe?
Their reportage is also influenced by the fact that most of them do not have Zimbabwean journalists among themselves and some of them report from South Africa. My advice to them is to engage Zimbabweans living in Zimbabwe as their correspondents instead of having somebody domiciled in South Africa but reporting for Zimbabwe – they just scan through the internet in the morning and then produce reports. Zimbabweans are equally trained as journalists and they are able to do the job.
What is the hope for press freedom?
There is no hope because the power-sharing agreement that was signed between Mugabe and Tsvangirai encourages governments that are hosting radio stations and websites outside the country to stop that but it doesn’t give an express requirement for the opening of newspapers that were closed down in Zimbabwe. So I don’t see any hope in terms of the media as it were.