Clampdown hounds out foreign journalists

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The Independent Online
<div class="floatbox"><div class="linkbox"><p class="linkindent"><b class="red">Internal links</b></p><p class="linkindent"><a href="">Zimbabwe tense as court rules on fate of farmers</a></p></div></div> Journalists are resorting to unconventional means to cover developments in Zimbabwe and the BBC is struggling under a month-old "suspension" as the government clamps down on local and international media.</p>Coverage of Zimbabwe is becoming increasingly difficult in the run-up to presidential elections, expected in the first half of next year, and many foreign journalists are now entering the southern African country surreptitiously or as tourists, as was common under military rule in Nigeria.</p>BBC television coverage of Zimbabwe has been conspicuously low key since last month, when the corporation was "suspended" from accreditation procedures by the country's information minister, Jonathan Moyo. Zimbabwe is one of a number of African countries in which journalists are expected to apply for permission before beginning work.</p>In a letter to the BBC's Africa bureau chief, Mr Moyo took exception to phrases used in a report by Rageh Omaar. The BBC world assignments editor, Malcolm Downing, said yesterday: "We were told that we would be suspended until we agreed to a code of ethics with the government of Zimbabwe. If this means we would be expected to sign up to some form of censorship, this would naturally be unacceptable.</p>"For the moment, we are awaiting clarification and have not had any further contact with Mr Moyo. The BBC is a brand name so it is often singled out. I suppose some people associate it with the British government, which is of course nonsense," he said.</p>In June, the Daily Telegraph </i>correspondent David Blair was told that his work permit would not be renewed. In February, a BBC African Service correspondent, Joseph Winter, was visited at 4am at his Harare home and told in front of his wife and weeping daughter to get out of the country. Mercedes Sayagues, a journalist for a South African weekly newspaper, received a similar farewell.</p>The clampdown has been greater on the local media. In 1999, a reporter and an editor from the weekly Standard</i> were arrested, detained for days and beaten after claiming that members of the armed forces were planning a coup. Recently, two Daily News</i> reporters were threatened with sedition charges for another story that offended President Robert Mugabe. Last year, Capital Radio, a pirate station which in test transmissions had broadcast elevator Muzak, was raided and closed down.</p>Geoff Nyarota, the 50-year-old editor of The Daily News, </i>who was arrested for the second time in two days yesterday, said: "The government is scared because we do not defer to Mugabe. We have the audacity to challenge his position and he cannot stand it."</p>Last year, in the run-up to parliamentary elections, a firebomb was thrown into a shop on the ground floor of The Daily News</i>. Later in the year, its printing plant was destroyed, forcing the paper to reduce the number of pages and turn away advertisers.</p>Now, the paper's journalists are threatened all the time. They counter by writing about the intimidation, publishing incisive cartoons of ministers and putting an anti-government spin on most developments. They are increasingly biased but they fend off accusations that their standards are slipping by pointing to the sycophancy of the state-run Herald</i> and Sunday Mail</i>. </p>