The government has increased registration and accreditation fees for Zimbabwean journalists working for international media houses by as much as 400% under provisions of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa).
Analysts and representatives of journalists said the new fee structures were “retributive” and a ploy by the government to “extort” money from the foreign media.
In new fees announced by the Minister of Media, Information and Publicity Webster Shamu, local journalists working for foreign media outlets will now be required to pay $400 accreditation fees, up from $100 paid last year.
Application fees for locals working for international media also shot up from $20 to $100.
Renewal of accreditation which was previously free now attracts a fee of $300.
Fees for journalists working for local media houses remained modest. They are required to pay $10 as application fee and $30, up from $20, as accreditation fee. Renewal of accreditation fee was pegged at $20. It was previously free.
Application fees for local media houses remained unchanged at $500 but registration fees rose from $1 500 to $2 000. Renewal of registration licences rose from $1 000 to $1 500.
Application fees for the registration of local news agencies remained unchanged at $300 while registration fees were increased to $1 500 from $1 000. Renewal fees were increased from $500 to $1 000.
But it was the foreign media that was hit hard by the new fees structure which now requires a foreign media house to pay $6 000, up from $2 000, to apply for permission to operate a representative office for mass media or news agency in Zimbabwe.
Application fees were raised to $1 000 from $500 while renewal of permission to operate which was previously free was put at $500.
The government put complementary permit administration fees at $500. It was previously free. Journalists from the Sadc region will pay application fees of $500 up from $250, while the fee for permission to operate was increased from $1 000 to $2 000.
Renewal of permission to operate which was previously free now attracts a fee of $1 500. Media researcher Takura Zhangazha said: “It’s extortion. The Zimbabwe Media Commission is seeking to extort money from foreign media houses in an effort to fundraise for its oppressive legal mechanisms. As you are aware, the budget allocation for the Media ministry was insignificant so the Zimbabwe Media Commission is literally trying to fundraise through extorting money from foreign media houses.”
Zhangazha said the money would be used to suppress media freedom in Zimbabwe ahead of crucial elections likely to be held next year.
Zimbabwe Union of Journalists secretary-general Foster Dongozi said: “Obviously as a union with members who work for the foreign media we are concerned by this retributive fee increase.
“It does not look like there are plans for Zimbabwe to join the family of nations through embracing the free flow of information.”
Dongozi said Zimbabwe should take advantage of local journalists working for the international media to “tell the Zimbabwe story”.
“Zimbabwe, given its image accumulated over the past few years of strategic and spectacular blundering, would benefit a lot by encouraging foreign media organisations represented by local journalists to operate unhindered in the country,” said Dongozi.
He said the dangers were that journalists would operate underground hence increasing the chances of them being unprofessional and unethical.