One of Africa’s most prominent press freedom advocates, Geoffrey Nyarota, Editor of the Daily News in Zimbabwe has been awarded the 2002 Golden Pen of Freedom, the annual press freedom prize of the World Association of Newspapers.
The award, announced by the Board of the Paris-based WAN at its meeting in South Africa today, was made in recognition of Mr Nyarota’s outstanding defence of press freedom in the face of constant persecution.
In a statement, the Board said: “Geoffrey Nyarota has with great courage stood firm and resolute in the face of repeated attempts to silence him and his newspaper. He has been arrested and jailed and threatened with death; the printing presses of the Daily News have been destroyed by a bomb and his offices have been attacked. Mr Nyarota has refused to bend under this constant campaign of intimidation. He has continued to edit a newspaper which has gained the trust of his readers by fearlessly providing them with the truth about government corruption and the country’s economic and social upheaval. His fierce devotion to free, honest and independent journalism is an inspiration to his colleagues everywhere.”
At the same time, WAN called on the Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe, to ensure “that the growing repression of free journalism ceases immediately.”
Mugabe’s government has been widely criticised for its attacks on the independent press. In recent months, authorities have arrested local journalists and expelled foreign correspondents. Most recently, a government spokesman last week accused several local and foreign journalists of assisting terrorists through their reports about the beatings of whites.
Mr Nyarota, 50, is Editor-in-Chief of the privately-owned Daily News, which was launched on 31 March 1999 and has become the largest circulating daily newspaper in Zimbabwe with sales of more than 100,000 copies per day. Its most serious rival, the government-controlled Herald, has seen its circulation decline from more than 150,000 to about 60,000 a day over the same period.
The Daily News’s coverage of the ruling party-sponsored invasion of white-run farms by Zimbabwean war veterans is part of the reason for the circulation turnaround. It has also brought down the wrath of the government and its supporters.
A bomb destroyed the printing press of the Daily News in January and its offices were attacked in April last year. Its editors and reporters have been arrested on numerous occasions and a reported plot to kill Mr Nyarota failed last year.
More recently, Mr Nyarota and Wilf Mbanga, the former head of the newspaper’s parent company, were arrested on November 8, detained overnight, and charged with “fraud” and violation of investment laws.
Mr Nyarota rose to prominence in Zimbabwe when he was appointed editor of the Bulawayo daily The Chronicle in 1983, three years after Robert Mugabe had been elected president.
In a tense and violent political climate, The Chronicle was one of the few Zimbabwean newspapers to pursue investigations into government corruption. When Mr Nyarota exposed the “Willowgate” scandal, forcing five cabinet ministers to resign, he was removed from his editorial position by his company, Zimbabwe Newspapers, for his “own safety.”
Mr Nyarota became Editor for the weekly Financial Gazette in 1991 but was dismissed in a dispute over editorial control of the paper. He then joined the Nordic School of Journalism in Maputo, Mozambique, and travelled and taught extensively in southern Africa. He returned to Zimbabwe in 1998 with the formation of Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe, which was soon to launch the Daily News.
WAN, the global organisation for the newspaper industry, defends and promotes press freedom world-wide. It represents 17,000 newspapers; its membership includes 70 national newspaper associations, individual newspaper executives in 93 countries, 17 news agencies and eight regional and world-wide press groups.