Keane defiant as Mugabe threatens BBC ban

Keane: "sneaked" into Zimbabwe

 

BBC correspondent Fergal Keane has defended his decision to go under-cover in Zimbabwe after the re-elected Mugabe Government threatened the corporation with a permanent ban for "sneaking" into the country.

The threat came as the Minister for Information, Jonathan Moyo, told journalists in Zimbawe that the Government was aware that Keane and his BBC colleague, John Sweeney, had gone separately undercover into the country.

"We are dismayed with reports from the BBC who are boasting that some of its journalists have sneaked in," said Moyo, who said their conduct was illegal and demonstrated why the BBC had not been able to cover the polls. "They have compromised their working in Zimbabwe for a temporary moment," he said.

But Keane, who was filming for Panorama, said the Government would be in "dubious company" if it banned BBC correspondents for good.

"It’s ironic that the last government to ban the BBC was the South African regime under PW Botha, which threw out Michael Buerk," said Keane. "The first time I went to South Africa was posing as a tourist in 1996, and I took the same view then as I do now, that any law that tries to suppress the freedom of information is an unjust law." A Zimbabwean working for the BBC World Service, Lewis Machipisa, has been the only BBC journalist in the country.

As President Mugabe claimed vic-tory in the elections, amid accusations of vote rigging and intimidation, draconian press laws restricting foreign journalists and the country’s independent media are now seen as inevitable.

The Independent’s Zimbabwe correspondent, Basildon Peta, who was forced to flee to South Africa, has urged journalists in the UK to be careful when writing about the country.

Peta, speaking at the NUJ’s annual conference in Eastbourne at the weekend, praised British journalists for much of their Zimbabwe coverage.

But he added: "We are living with very brutal dictators. If you are reckless in your writing you put us in a lot of problems." Peta left Zimbabwe after The Times ran a story accusing him of lying about his imprisonment (Press Gazette, 5 February).

He claimed Mugabe seized on the story, which was dropped from later editions, and wants to jail him.

"I think I became a victim of a press war in Britain. I think The Times probably wanted to get at The Independent and I was caught in the middle."

By Julie Tomlin and Jon Slattery

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