BBC bids to get media ban lifted in Zimbabwe

 The BBC is continuing negotiations with Zimbabwean authorities in a bid to gain access for journalists who have been banned from the country.

Rageh Omaar, the BBC’s Africa correspondent, has been forced to report on the violence in Chinhoyi from the country’s border with South Africa since the information and publicity minister, Jonathan Moyo, announced a ban on all the corporation’s correspondents in June.

Talks are being held with Moyo in a bid to gain accreditation and in the meantime Omaar has announced on his reports for TV and radio that he has been denied access to Zimbabwe.

The Zimbabwean Government suspended all accreditation for BBC journalists, accusing the corporation of "distortions and misrepresentation" following a report by Omaar on a speech by President Mugabe. The ban follows the expulsion of BBC correspondent Joseph Winter, who was forced to flee Harare in February.

New restrictions announced in June have made it difficult for foreign reporters to enter the country. The Daily Telegraph’s David Blair had to leave the country in June after his work permit was not renewed.

Despite animosity shown to foreign press, ITN correspondent Tim Ewart was able to report from Zimbabwe for ITV’s News at Ten on Monday.

Al Anstey, ITN’s senior foreign editor, said he got in after applying for press accreditation as soon as the 21 white farmers were taken into custody after they clashed with black farm invaders. He was given permission to go in to Chinhoyi a week later.

"I don’t know if it was first come first served, but we managed to get in," said Anstey. "It’s really an extension of the visa process, but it would be unwise to go in without it.

"Unless it’s a huge story, we would not go in without permission from the authorities. Obviously there are limits to what you can do out there and it’s dangerous, but we managed to do what we thought was a balanced story."

The crackdown on foreign journalists has been coupled with a continued vendetta by President Mugabe against the country’s only independent newspaper, the Daily News. Editor Geoffrey Nyarota and three of his staff were charged with publishing subversive material following their arrest and release shortly afterwards last week.

Nyarota, deputy editor Bill Saidi, news editor John Gambanga and reporter Sam Munyavi were questioned after the paper published a story linking police to looting of white-owned farms in the north west.

The front-page report claimed police vehicles were used by ruling party militants during recent lootings.

The journalists were released after the High Court ruled that the law under which they were charged was out of date. They now face charges under Section 44 of the Law and Order Maintenance Act, but were allowed to leave pending a court hearing.

By Julie Tomlin

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