The Daily News is back – and taking no prisoners

Back in 2003 Robert Mugabe's regime closed down The Daily News. But last year the newspaper was granted a licence by the Zimbabwean Media Commission, and now it's returned with a vengeance.

The newspaper boasts the tag line “telling it like it is” and its writers haven’t been shy to speak the truth to power, with both Mugabe and Zanu-PF’s prodigal son, Jonathan Moyo, already coming in for some stinging criticism.

As calls for elections by President Robert Mugabe are becoming a Zanu-PF chorus, the party’s nemesis in the media – The Daily News – is back on the streets after more than seven years in the wilderness. The newspaper was shut down by the Zanu-PF government in 2003 for its critical reporting on bad governance, and the abuse of democratic and human-rights principles.

At its peak, under the editorship of Geoffrey Nyarota, The Daily News was regarded as an enemy of the state. Efforts to silence it began in 2003 when its printing press was bombed. In addition, owing to the government’s unhappiness with the paper’s editorial policy, its reporters were arrested, beaten up and threatened with unspecified action. Some journalists were forced into hiding, fearing for their lives. The newspaper was finally closed under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act – a controversial piece of legislation masterminded by then minister of information Jonathan Moyo.

The closure of the paper meant a dead end for reporters. Rookies and seasoned journalists alike were forced into unemployment. Some, fearing for their lives, fled to exile – including the editor Geoffrey Nyarota, who went to the US. In the diaspora the bulk of the former reporters took menial jobs to earn a living, but only a handful managed to make it as journalists abroad.

The likes of Mduduzi Mathuthu opened online publications that became a source of employment for some of the former Daily News reporters. The paper’s managing editor Wilf Mbanga came up with a newspaper called The Zimbabwean, which relies on Zimbabwe-based correspondents. Its slant became similar to that of The Daily News, fast earning it the “enemy of the state” tag.

More than seven years later The Daily News celebrated its reincarnation with a promotional edition on 18 March. This edition was tinged with nostalgia, with many of the journalists who were at the paper when it closed reminiscing about the past.

In its editorial comment The Daily News stated: “We un-apologetically declare that we will take a critical stand against bad governance and expose it for the entire nation to see….” The edition led with a news feature story – an unusual style in Zimbabwean daily newspapers. The feature questioned Mugabe’s health at 87 years, as well as his political ambitions. The promotional copy sold like hot cakes countrywide; people were clearly eager to read the paper, which has the tag line “telling it like it is” – similar to that of Johannesburg’s redoubtable The Star.

The newspaper started publishing daily on 25 March, and the first edition continued where the promotional edition left off – again leading with a story linked to Mugabe’s family. While other newspapers in the market focus on parliamentary issues, intra-political party fights and human rights, The Daily News’ headline screamed “Grace Mugabe in $1m swindle”. The front page also ran a rider story headlined “First Lady sick” – the publication so far seems to have an obsession with Mugabe.

Another key feature is The Daily News seems to be out to settle scores with its enemies, particularly Moyo, the man behind its closure. The promotional copy carried an opinion piece by Moyo that he penned when he left Zanu-PF in 2005. At that time Moyo was a bitter critic of Mugabe and Zanu-PF. However, he has since returned to the party and now the articles that he wrote at that time are resurfacing in the media to remind Mugabe what Moyo once thought about his leadership.

The 25 March edition carries a story about Moyo betraying his parliamentary constituency by rejoining Zanu-PF when he had won his seat as an independent. There is also feature by Ray Matikinye called “Jonathan Moyo’s lust for lost glory”, as well as an opinion piece written by Moyo himself in 2009 entitled “Why Mugabe should go now”.

The Daily News, which is still owned by Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe, hopes to regain its place as a bestseller. “We are going to relive our glory days as the newspaper of choice in Zimbabwe,” managing editor John Gambanga told Free African Media.

The Zimbabwean print media is largely dominated by the state media with The Herald, and the Sunday Mail in Harare and the Chronicle and the Sunday News in Bulawayo getting the most advertising revenue – largely because government departments and most banks flight tenders and adverts in those papers.

These newspapers have been around for close to a century. There is also a year-old daily, NewsDay, and weekly papers The Zimbabwe Independent and The Standard, owned by Alfa Media Holdings. Other newspapers in the market are The Financial Gazette, and South African newspapers The Sunday Times and the Mail & Guardian. Thus the entry of The Daily News brings the number of newspapers in the market to 11.

The Media Institute for Southern Africa’s Zimbabwe chapter and the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists welcomed the relaunch of The Daily News. They also called for the opening up of the broadcasting sector, which is still dominated by the state-controlled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation. FAM