June 4, 2010 / 2:04 PM / 9 years ago

Zimbabwe gets first private daily newspaper in years

* New newspaper breaks state monopoly

* Publisher says paper will play healing role

By Cris Chinaka

HARARE, June 4 (Reuters) - Zimbabwe’s first private daily newspaper hit the streets on Friday to break a state monopoly established years ago after President Robert Mugabe’s government banned a pro-opposition newspaper over a registration dispute.

Mugabe, in power since independence in 1980, was forced to form a power-sharing government over a year ago with his rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, to tackle an economic and political crisis, including opening up the media industry.

A media commission appointed by the unity government early this year licensed four private daily newspapers last week, and one of the titles, NewsDay, was published on Friday.

NewsDay is owned by Alpha Media Holdings, a newspaper group headed by Trevor Ncube, who also publishes two weeklies in Zimbabwe and the Mail and Guardian in South Africa.

Critics say Mugabe has used tough security and media laws to keep a tight grip on power, but is being forced to implement political reforms ahead of any new elections.

The last private daily newspaper to be published in Zimbabwe was banned by Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party seven years ago.

Until now Zimbabwe had one national daily paper, the state-run The Herald and a regional daily, The Chronicle, published from the country’s second largest city of Bulawayo.

Zimbabwe has no private radio or television station, and still has to repeal laws requiring compulsory accreditation for journalists and barring foreign journalists from long-term employment.

Mugabe and his officials accuse the local private press and the Western media of waging a hate campaign against his ZANU-PF party over its controversial policies, including the seizure of white-owned farms for redistribution to landless blacks.

But local rights groups say ZANU-PF has been hostile to a free media since it assumed power at independence from Britain in 1980, and has used its own control of the state media for propaganda purposes.

In a statement on the launch of NewsDay, Ncube said that the newspaper’s birth “represents the hope of a tortured nation” and would provide leadership as the country normalises.

“NewsDay will play a leading role in national healing, nation building, reconciliation and reconstruction,” he said.

In an editorial, the new daily said: “In the 30 years of our independence, media have been abused to relay hate and divisiveness and to create personality cults.”

“NewsDay shall endeavour to report the news for Zimbabweans whose collective voice has systematically drowned out the din of slogans and abhorrent propaganda,” it said. (Editing by Giles Elgood)

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