Secret Mugabe takeover of newspapers


ZIMBABWE: Zimbabwe's state security agency has allegedly taken over three of the country's remaining independent newspapers, using billions of Zimbabwean dollars (millions of euro) in taxpayers' money.

The Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) began infiltrating the Financial Gazette, the Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror, which were hitherto seen as independent voices in Zimbabwe, in 2002 after buying majority stakes in the newspapers as a shelf company or silent shareholders, the Zimbabwe Independent reported over the weekend.

The Zimbabwe Independent is owned by South Africa's Mail and Guardian newspaper owner Trevor Ncube and is considered the most reputable paper in Zimbabwe since the state began closing the other independent newspapers two years ago.

"The CIO controls those three newspapers (Fingaz and Mirror titles). They control a large stake, if not 100 per cent of the Fingaz, and 70 per cent of the Mirror group. Ibbo Mandaza (Mirror chief executive and editor-in-chief) owns 30 per cent," a high-level intelligence source reportedly told the newspaper.

The development is seen as a further indication that the government regards the control of the country's independent press as a more viable route to influencing its disgruntled population, which is suffering as a result of the country's economic collapse, than through state-owned media outlets like the Herald and Chronicle.

The Independent named a number of CIO officers in its report who it said had been deployed to the three newspapers to tighten the intelligence service's grip on the publications through the reorganisation of internal structures.

Since the state-sponsored land invasions of white-owned farms in 2000, President Mugabe's government has arrested dozens of journalists of the country's independent media and deported all the foreign correspondents who had been working there.

It has been widely reported the CIO was behind the closure of the privately owned Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe titles, the Daily News and the Daily News on Sunday, after the papers' licences were revoked by the courts over a year ago.

It has also been alleged the security organisation was behind the closure of the Weekly Times earlier this year.

The Zimbabwe security agency has reportedly copied its current strategy of owning newspapers through shelf companies or as silent shareholders from Angola, where the intelligence service owns the largest-circulating daily.

Mugabe's government already controls a chain of newspapers under the Zimpapers stable, and enjoys a monopoly of the airwaves.

Over the past five years, the government has intensified media domination in tandem with political oppression as part of its political survival strategy.

The government, the CIO and the newspapers themselves have not disputed the latest report and according to sources an emergency meeting was scheduled to take place yesterday in Harare in an effort to contain the fallout from what has been called the biggest media scandal to hit the country in 25 years.

The CIO's actions are widely seen as similar to South Africa's information scandal in the late 1970s when apartheid intelligence services set up a newspaper and bought space in the foreign media to defend their policies.

If the allegations are true then the Zimbabwe Independent and its sister publication, the Zimbabwean Standard are the only independently run newspapers left operating in the southern African country.