BBC sets up new bureau to beat Zimbabwe ban

Ray: "free and fair media essential"

The BBC plans to set up a temporary bureau on the Zimbabwe border if President Robert Mugabe’s ban on the corporation continues.

BBC journalists have been refused entry to the country since its correspondent Joseph Winter was thrown out last February.

With Zimbabwe’s election set for 9 March, the BBC is planning to base a team of journalists on its border with South Africa to gain better access, while continuing to report from Johannesburg and London.

The BBC’s Africa correspondents, Rageh Omaar and Hilary Andersson, along with diplomatic correspondents James Robbins, Brian Hanrahan and Bridget Kendall, are among those who will be working on the story.

"The most important thing is that there is a free and fair election, and we believe that a free and fair media is essential to that process," said Vin Ray, BBC deputy head of newsgathering.

"We would be extremely disappointed if the Government continued to exclude us. We are working on plans to cover the election from Johannesburg and London, as well from the border, if they do."

The BBC has been caught up in a political row over whether the European Union’s general affairs council has accepted that the ban can continue without sanctions being imposed. Shadow Foreign Secretary Michael Ancram has asked Jack Straw if sanctions would be triggered if monitors were not in place by 3 February and the international media given access.

Meanwhile, The Guardian’s Chris McGreal and The Daily Telegraph’s Philip Sherwell have left Zimbabwe after reports that President Mugabe’s Government was hunting for foreign journalists posing as tourists.

By Julie Tomlin

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