By: Angus Shaw, Associated Press Writer
(AP) A top Zimbabwean official slammed the international media as imperialist Friday as Zimbabwe was named one of the worst places to be a journalist on World Press Freedom Day.
Also Friday, a Zimbabwe court postponed a case against three reporters accused of breaching harsh new media laws after defense lawyers asked that the charges be dropped.
Since the media laws took effect March 22, seven journalists have been arrested. Dozens of other independent journalists have been arrested by police or assaulted by ruling party militants over the past two years.
The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists on Friday named Zimbabwe one of the 10 worst places to be a journalist, alongside Afghanistan, Colombia, and Iran.
In a statement marking World Press Freedom Day, Information Minister Jonathan Moyo said the nation had in recent months come under an “unprecedented media-led assault” at a time when the press should be “deployed in the service and defense of the national agenda.”
“Our experience … has clearly shown the so-called borderless global media, in fact, carries an imperial flag and is an integral part of Western imperial expansionism and assault on Third World sovereignties,” he said.
However, the government was committed to “constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression, of which press freedom was only a small and subsidiary part,” he said.
Meanwhile, Harare Magistrate Lilian Kudya adjourned the case against Andrew Meldrum, 50, a U.S. citizen who is the Harare correspondent of the British newspaper The Guardian, and Lloyd Mudiwa and Collin Chiwanza, two Zimbabwean reporters with the independent Daily News.
The three face charges of “abuse of journalistic privilege by publishing falsehoods,” a crime punishable by up to two years in jail.
The charges stem from a story in the Daily News last week about the killing — allegedly by ruling party supporters — of a woman near the town of Karoi, 120 miles northwest of Harare. Several international media outlets, including The Guardian, also reported on the story.
Police said the killing never happened, and the Daily News retracted the story.
Chiwanza said he did not even write “a single word” of the report, though he did travel to Karoi to try to help verify it, his lawyer Lawrence Chibwe said.
The case represents the first legal challenge to Zimbabwe’s new media laws that critics say are aimed at stifling criticism of President Robert Mugabe’s government.
Four other journalists, including a correspondent of the British Daily Telegraph, have been arrested since the laws went into effect. They have been released but may be summoned to court later.