The media situation in Zimbabwe has improved slightly since the dictator Robert Mugabe’s ouster in 2017. Access to information has increased and self-censorship has declined.
The media landscape is exhibiting an encouraging increase in diversity but remains dominated by state-controlled media, of which the national companies, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) and Zimpapers, are the most important, with six radio stations, a TV channel and 10 newspapers, including The Herald, a daily. The privately owned Daily News and The Financial Gazette, a weekly, are also widely read. Alpha Media Holdings (AMH) publishes the daily NewsDay and the weekly The Independent, which are also widely read. There are four independent news websites, including Zimlive and The Newshawks, and 14 community radio stations.
The political climate has been more peaceful for Zimbabwean journalists since Emmerson Mnangagwa took over as president, even if the authorities are still tempted to intervene in editorial decisions. In 2021, the head of Zimpapers asked editors to publicly support the ruling party ahead of the election. The authorities also influence the selection of members of the board of the media regulator, the Zimbabwe Media Commission.
Extremely harsh laws are still in effect and, when new laws have been adopted, their provisions are just as draconian as those they replaced. The amended penal code and Official Secrets Act and the new Cyber Security and Data Protection Act continue to hamstring journalism. In theory, the confidentiality of sources is protected by law, but that hasn’t been the case in practice. A long-awaited law on freedom of information could see the light of day soon.
The economic situation in Zimbabwe is holding back development of the media. The cost of creating any new media outlet is prohibitive and discourages investors, while the annual licensing fees for a TV channel can run to tens of thousands of dollars. This situation allows the state to maintain its grip on the sector, and nearly 70% of print and broadcast media outlets are still under its control. Poorly paid journalists are exposed to the temptation of bribes, which weakens their independence.
Zimbabwe continues to be a conservative society that regards subjects related to religion and to ancestral religious beliefs and practices as taboo, leading to self-censorship by the media.
Although levels of violence against journalists have declined significantly under the Mnangagwa administration, they remain alarmingly high and self-censorship is routinely practiced to avoid reprisals. The police often use disproportionate force and confiscate equipment. Acts of intimidation, verbal attacks and threats (especially on social media) are all still common practices. Cases of journalists being imprisoned and prosecuted are nonetheless now rarer, the most notable case being that of Hopewell Chin'ono, an investigative journalist who spent almost a month and a half in prison in 2020. Journalists’ phone communications are often subject to surveillance.