The International Federation of Journalists, the world's largest organization of journalists, today called for a leading journalist on trial under draconian new press regulations to be freed and for the Government of Zimbabwe to end its "deplorable vendetta against press freedom." The IFJ says the trial of Andrew Meldrum, the Guardian's Harare correspondent, is "victimization of a respected professional."
Meldrum, who is accused of publishing a false story under the country's spiteful media law, denies the charge. Late last years he was one of a group of journalists accused by government representatives of "supporting terrorism".
"This is victimization pure and simple," said IFJ General Secretary Aidan White, "The government has adopted an unacceptable pattern of targeting certain journalists."
Meldrum is an American citizen who has lived and worked in Zimbabwe for more than 20 years. He is the first journalist to be tried in Zimbabwe under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which has been widely condemned by press freedom groups in the region and internationally. He says he did not publish false information deliberately, and has pleaded not guilty. He could nevertheless face up to two years in prison or a fine of about US$2000 if convicted. Two other journalists, Lloyd Midiwa and Collin Chiwanza, have also been arrested in relation to the same report and face trial later.
"This about a report based on wrong information is a matter to be resolved in the newsroom and not in the courts," says White, "It is absolutely unacceptable that honest reporters should be prosecuted in this way. The story was written in good faith. The legal process is being used as a weapon to intimidate the whole profession," he said.
"Ethics in the newsroom are matters that should be addressed by professional themselves. They do not need to be directed by the law or by government".