Tsvangirai blasts George Charamba

HARARE,– Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai dismissed claims by Media, Information and Publicity permanent secretary George Charamba, that he could be breaking the country’s media laws by publishing his newsletter without a licence.

“There is nothing illegal about a newsletter,” Tsvangirai told journalists during a news conference, 24 hours after returning from a tour of Europe and America to source for relief aid for Zimbabwe.

“I have a website. This is the modern age. I have to communicate. You cannot keep things to yourself and still say you are communicating. Let the people know,” he said.

Charamba told the State controlled Sunday Mail newspaper during Tsvangirai’s absence that his ministry was investigating the legality of the weekly publication.

"We have seen the publication, which purports to be from the Prime Minister’s Office, noted its circulation figures and we are looking at what the law says," he was quoted as saying.

Under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), newsletters are not obliged to register with the country’s media regulating authority.

With a print run of "400 000" copies distributed free of charge every week, government was anxious this surpassed the print run of most newspapers in Africa and should as such, be subject to the operations of Zimbabwe’s strict media laws as it was “clearly an organ of mass communication”.

The bulletin, whose actual circulation is 40 000, was launched during Tsvangirai’s absence to counter claims by the State media that his tour was intended to raise monies for local Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs).

Government has long accused NGOs of harbouring a regime change agenda against President Robert Mugabe.

Charamba, who together with his ministry, were last month barred by the High Court from interfering with the affairs of the media, now faces contempt of court charges following his refusal to abide by the ruling.

Tsvangirai also challenged government officials accusing him of leaking government secrets through the newsletter, to officially present their complaints during cabinet meetings.

This was after the same issue of The Sunday Mail had also quoted unnamed government officials accusing the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader of “undermining cabinet” and violating the “Oaths of Secrecy” by publishing in the bulletin details of his official trip before briefing cabinet.

“They know what channel to use,” he said, “The only channel where anyone in government can raise or any minister can lodge a complaint of that nature, if it exists, is in cabinet and I will answer that. Let them raise it in cabinet.”

Most stories published in the fist issue of the newsletter were already in the public domain.