Magazine article The Spectator

The Triumph of the Free Press over Mugabe's Regime of Terror

Magazine article The Spectator

The Triumph of the Free Press over Mugabe's Regime of Terror

Article excerpt

Robert Mugabe's greatest mistake may turn out to have been the bombing of the Daily News's printing plant in the early hours of Sunday 24 January. By expertly destroying one press and damaging another, it seemed the saboteurs might have finished off the fledgling independent newspaper. When I last wrote about it on 3 February, the future seemed bleak.

Now the outlook is rosier. The Daily News has not missed one issue since the bombing. By using a variety of contract printers (including one - bizarrely - owned by the Zimbabwean government) it has managed to print between 70,000 and 75,000 copies most evenings. Admittedly the pagination has been reduced, but the management of the Daily News hopes to print up to 85,000 copies of a 48-page edition this Friday.

At the same time, the paper has drawn enormous support. At home it has become, even more than before the bombing, a rallying point for the increasing number of victims of Mugabe's psychopathic regime. They literally turn up by the dozen from the townships at the newspaper's offices in central Harare. The Daily News has also received encouragement from foreign governments and non-governmental organisations. Even President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa has finally been shamed into expressing his `very serious concern' about what is being done to the press in Zimbabwe, as well as to the judiciary.

It is difficult to think of any newspaper having played such a pivotal role in a oneparty state. Its criticism of Mugabe is relentless but never hysterical, and the paper has on occasion chided the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai when he has let fly with unconstitutional sentiments. Every day the Daily News is denounced in the governmentowned media. It runs the risk of another attack, though President Mbeki's remarks may afford it some protection.

So the paper is flourishing, but unfortunately it is also losing money because of its reduced sales and smaller advertising revenue. It needs a new press; without one it will sooner or later go out of business. No such presses are available in Zimbabwe, and must be bought abroad with hard currency. Emboldened by the support it has received, the newspaper is thinking of acquiring a bigger and better press than the one that was destroyed. It has set its heart on a new American machine that may cost as much as 3 million. Without financial assistance this is a pipe dream.

If everyone reading this column gave 10, who knows what we might raise? Some could afford a lot more. I honestly can't think of many better causes. The Sunday Times has started an appeal and has already raised nearly 35,000. Readers can send cheques made out to the `Daily News Appeal' to the following address: 3rd Floor, Midgate House, Midgate, Peterborough PEl 1TN. Or you could send a cheque c/o the editor here.

On Sunday the Observer sWashed with a story about Michael Portillo, suggesting that he had not declared all the payments he had received from `oil exploration giant Kerr McGee'. It seemed a good yam, but the more one went into it the thinner it became. Unsurprisingly, very few newspapers followed it up. It appears that the story was what is known at Westminster as a `Millbank operation'. Fraser Kemp, a Blairite MP and indefatigable fixer, had co-operated with the Observer's political editor, Kamal Ahmed, supplying the usual juicy quotes. But New Labour soon had a change of mind. In Monday's Times one of its spokesmen rowed back smartly: `We are not saying that he [Michael Portillo] has broken any rules. …

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