By Own Correspondent – Reporters Without Borders condemns the jamming of some of the programmes of Short Wave Radio Africa (SWRA), a London-based radio station staffed by Zimbabwean exile journalists that broadcasts to Zimbabwe. Various sources said they thought Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) was responsible for the interference, which began on 1 September.
“While the licences granted to several independent publications last May improved media diversity after years of a state media monopoly, the jamming of this exile radio station is an extremely negative sign,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The relaxation seen in the print media is clearly not on the cards for the broadcast media. We urge the national unity government to clarify this situation without delay and to guarantee the right of access to information.”
The first 30 minutes of SWRA’s programming on the evening 1 September, a news programme called Newsreel, was rendered inaudible by interference which stopped as soon as the news programme ended. The jamming of Newsreel has been repeated several times since then.
President Robert Mugabe’s government used Chinese equipment to jam SWRA, Voice of America’s Studio 7 and Radio Voice of the People (VOP) in 2005. The president regarded them as pirate stations that were broadcasting to Zimbabwe with the sole aim of overthrowing him.
Five years before that, Zimbabwe’s supreme court ruled in favour of SWRA, then called Capital Radio, when it challenged the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation’s broadcasting monopoly. The police had shut Capital Radio down six days after it began broadcasting from a Harare hotel.
In a separate case, artist Owen Maseko is facing a possible 20-year jail sentence on a charge of “communicating falsehoods in order to incite violence” for organising an exhibition on the so-called Gukurahundi massacres that took place shortly after Zimbabwe gained independence. On 27 August, the government announced a ban on any film, publication or artistic work about the Gukurahundi.
“This retrograde measure shows that some sectors of the Zimbabwean government still tend to react in a paranoid fashion and are clearly not ready to tolerate free expression about events that are part of the country’s history,” Reporters Without Borders said, calling for the withdrawal of the charges against Maseko.