By Our Correspondent in Bulawayo:
Southern Eye, a new privately owned daily newspaper, hit the streets of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city, on Monday, the latest addition to an increasingly independent media landscape.
The newspaper will cover the five provinces of Bulawayo, Matabeleland North and South, Midlands and Masvingo, giving a voice to an under-served region, according to Trevor Ncube, chairman of Alpha Media Holdings (AMH) which publishes the newspaper.
“This is not an ethnic or regional mischievous project but a noble initiative to spotlight these largely marginalised and under-developed provinces of Zimbabwe,” Mr Ncube said as he launched the newspaper at Bulawayo’s Large City Hall.
“Southern Eye aims to give the inhabitants of the south a voice, an opportunity to be heard. The new paper will be non-partisan, it will not be biased towards any political party or grouping. It will only be biased towards the truth.
“It is a paper for the people of the South to engage, to converse and initiate the development of the region,” he said.
AMH publishes two weekly newspapers, The Standard and The Zimbabwe Independent, and the daily NewsDay.
The launch of Southern Eye comes as Zimbabwe heads into a general election, which President Robert Mugabe, who has led the country since Independence in 1980, has said will be held before the end of July.
Journalism is a troubled profession in Zimbabwe, but opening the media to greater competition was part of the agreement between Mr Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party and the two factions of the Movement for Democratic Change when they formed a unity government after elections in 2008. Nevertheless, a cocktail of repressive media laws still hangs over the news business.
Southern Eye becomes Zimbabwe’s fourth private daily newspaper since the formation of the inclusive government. The others are NewsDay, Daily News, The Observer and the Daily News.
Alec Muchademana, the chairman of the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ), said Southern Eye would “add to diversity and pluralism,” help create employment and boost journalistic standards in a country where most media serve the State.
“The VMCZ hopes the newspaper will contribute to professional and ethical reporting of the southern region of the country and the publication will bring the people closer and serve in informing, educating, guiding and inspiring those who read it,” Muchademana said in a statement.
As campaigning for the election has intensified in recent weeks, a number of journalists have been arrested for apparent violations of the tough media restrictions.
Last month, the editor of the Zimbabwe Independent, Dumisani Muleya, and his chief reporter, Owen Gagare, were detained for allegedly writing a false story about army generals despite having back-up quotes from named sources.
Journalists face arrest and imprisonment for up to 20 years for violating the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) enacted in 2001. The Interception of Communication Act also allows the State to monitor journalists’ emails, phone calls and text messages.
The State maintains a tight grip on broadcast media: no independent television or radio stations have been licensed since 2008. Authorities have licensed two radio stations, ZiFM and Star FM, which have links to the State.
State-owned Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) has two TV channels and four radio stations, and a reputation as a propaganda outlet for ZANU-PF.
Reporters Without Borders includes President Mugabe on its list of 39 “Predators of Freedom of Expression” and recently drew up an indictment accusing him of suppressing freedom of expression, exercising strict control over State media, harassing print media and being the architect of extremely repressive media legislation.