Watchdog condemns Mugabe's media 'threat'

News24 Correspondent

Harare - President Robert Mugabe's warning that rigid new controls could be imposed upon the media industry was a "blatant threat" that could trigger fresh assaults on press freedoms, a watchdog warned on Wednesday.

Mugabe, 91, reportedly slammed the private press at a luncheon to mark the opening of parliament on Tuesday, accusing reporters of telling "lies".

"The journalism we are experiencing is not the journalism we expect. If we begin to take control now, rigid control, people should not then cry foul," Mugabe said, according to the official Herald newspaper.

He had been angered by claims in the private press that he was afraid of Joice Mujuru, the former vice president who was sacked in December and who appears to be on the point of launching her own party.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa's-Zimbabwe "strongly condemned" Mugabe's statement, saying "the threat underlines the dangers that continue to confront the media despite the adoption of a new constitution guaranteeing media freedom".

"Clearly it demonstrates that... government can easily resort to media repression at the slightest of opportunities, using an array of undemocratic legislative instruments that remain at its disposal," the press watchdog said.

Strict press laws were enacted in 2002 which led to the arrests of dozens of journalists. The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) was slightly amended ahead of elections in 2008, but remains in force.

Mugabe was speaking after an embarrassing blunder in which he read the wrong speech at the opening of parliament. Legislators were summoned back to parliament on Wednesday afternoon, but the president did not attend.

Instead, Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa submitted the correct speech to them.