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Zimbabwe: Press Freedom

Volume 621: debated on Wednesday 31 January 2001

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2.55 p.m.

Whether they will propose to their partners in the Commonwealth that a voluntary fund be established by the Commonwealth Secretariat, to which member states would be invited to contribute, to pay for the replacement of the printing presses of the Daily News, Harare, destroyed in bomb explosions on 28th January.

My Lords, the Government attach great importance to the freedom of the press, especially in the circumstances of Zimbabwe, and deplore the attack on the printing presses of the Daily News in Harare.

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that although many messages of sympathy have been received by the Daily News from organisations such as UNESCO, the Media Institute of Southern Africa, the Commonwealth Press Union and the Commonwealth Journalists Association, those now need to be translated into concrete assistance, bearing in mind that replacement of the presses will cost 1.5 million US dollars? Will the noble Baroness ask her colleagues to take the lead in pressing the Commonwealth Secretariat to seek the establishment of a voluntary fund such as is mentioned in my Question?

My Lords, I repeat to the noble Lord that we condemn the attack, which was clearly intended to silence the independent media in Zimbabwe. I have checked with the Commonwealth Secretariat and there are two Commonwealth funds that could be used. But those funds would have to be drawn on by the Government of Zimbabwe. It is important that the noble Lord should recognise that, like all member states, we contribute to the funding of the Commonwealth Secretariat, but it is an organisation that operates by consensus and where all members are equal. I understand that discussions are under way between those who own the Daily News and others on the possibility of setting up some kind of fund. We would support any measures that would lead to the continuance of an independent press in Zimbabwe, but it would be for others to take the lead.

My Lords, have the Government of Zimbabwe expressed any regret about the attacks? Have they made any attempt to ensure that those who carried out the attacks are pursued by the police and brought to justice? If they have done neither of those things, will my noble friend make it clear that the Government of Zimbabwe owe a duty to the Commonwealth and to its people to ensure that such events do not again take place? Will she also make it clear that, in reparation for what are clearly government-inspired attacks on the press in Zimbabwe, the Government of Zimbabwe themselves should pay compensation to the newspaper?

My Lords, Jonathan Moyo, the Zimbabwe Minister for Information, is reported to have said before the explosion that the Daily News was a,

"security risk to national interest".
After the explosion he was reported as saying that the incident was "most regrettable" and that the culprits would be,
"brought to book in the interests of justice, democracy and freedom of expression".
The Zimbabwe police indicated that they would be carrying out a full investigation. We would urge that investigation to be carried out as a matter of urgency and the culprits brought to justice.

My Lords, I pay tribute to the courage of certain editors and politicians in Zimbabwe in resisting what has been an increasing disregard of the rule of law. I have two questions. First, would I be right to assume that DfID's aid to Zimbabwe could not include assistance to its press because of the involvement of the government? Secondly, does the noble Baroness agree that, perhaps above all, the international media and the media in this country, which are not exactly short of money, might consider this to be a cause to which they could find every possible reason to contribute?

My Lords, of course we deplore the actions being taken in Zimbabwe; namely, trying to harass journalists and to close down the independent press. As regards DfID funding to Zimbabwe, we are focusing on health issues such as AIDS and HIV prevention programmes, rural water and sanitation measures, along with the reform of local government, governance and human rights. We continue to maintain a programme in Zimbabwe for which the 2000–01 allocation is around £14 million. Given that 63 per cent of Zimbabweans live below the poverty line, we have a responsibility to try to help those people. However, we have a clear policy of working on smaller projects, using NGOs and trying to assist the poor in Zimbabwe until such times that we feel more confident about introducing bigger programmes with the government of Zimbabwe.