Freedom of the Press in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwean Editor Iden Wetherell Recieves World Press Review's Editor of the Year Award

World Press Review staff, Oct. 28, 2002

World Press Review has named Iden Wetherell, editor of the Harare-based Zimbabwe Independent, a leading political and business weekly, as recipient of the magazine’s 27th annual International Editor of the Year Award. He was honored at a luncheon ceremony at the United Nations General Assembly Building on October 28 at 12:30 p.m.

The award has been given annually since 1975 to an editor or editors outside the United States in recognition of enterprise, courage, and leadership in advancing the freedom and responsibility of the press, enhancing human rights, and fostering excellence in journalism.

Dr. Francis Mading Deng, Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons, presented the award to Mr. Wetherell. After the presentation, Mr. Wetherell spoke about conditions in Zimbabwe and the challenges facing Zimbabwean journalists.

“Iden Wetherell embodies the highest ideals of journalism,” said World Press Review Editor Alice Chasan. “In an atmosphere of threats and legal harassment, he continues to bring the people of Zimbabwe and all others who read his newspaper a clear, reasoned, and courageous perspective on the deepening political and humanitarian crisis in the country.

“The story of President Mugabe’s descent into despotism and his manipulation of societal inequities to ensure his hold on power is a complex one,” Chasan said. “It is a sometimes-counterintuitive narrative, because it centers on a liberation hero who has become his own people’s tormentor. But the independent press in Zimbabwe, led by Iden Wetherell and his colleagues, is bearing unflinching witness to the Mugabe regime’s willful destruction of Zimbabwean society.”

Iden Wetherell was chosen in recognition of his role in covering rampant misrule and populist deception by the government of President Robert Mugabe. Despite a raft of repressive laws designed to silence the independent press, the Zimbabwe Independent under Mr. Wetherell’s leadership has persisted in speaking out against the regime’s ruinous policies.

Zimbabwe is currently suffering widespread hunger, triggered by severe drought and stoked by a government edict last May ordering white farmers to cease cultivating their crops and vacate the land by Aug. 8 or face arrest. At least 6 million Zimbabweans are in danger of starvation and thousands of black farm workers have been cast out of their jobs and homes as a result of the land-redistribution scheme. Although Mugabe claims that he is redressing colonialism’s wrongs, the seized land has been doled out to his political cronies.

Wetherell, 53, is a founding member of the newly formed Zimbabwe National Editors’ Forum, an organization that brings together the editors of the main independent newspapers in challenging onerous press laws, as well as responding to arrests and other forms of official pressure. He was one of 13 independent journalists arrested under the new media law and charged with “abusing journalistic privilege” and has been charged three times for violation of the censorship act.

In 1975, Harold Evans of the Sunday Times, London, was World Press Review’s first International Editor of the Year. Recent recipients have included Perica Vucinic, editor of Reporter, Banja Luka and Belgrade (2001); Paul Kamara, editor of For di People, Freetown; Philip Neville, editor of Standard Times, Freetown; David Tam-Baryoh, editor of Punch, Freetown (1999-2000); Goenawan Mohamad, editor of Tempo, Jakarta (1998); J. Jesus Blancornelas, editor of Zeta, Tijuana (1997); Salima Ghezali, editor of La Nation, Algiers (1996); and Dapo Olornyomi, editor of The News, Lagos; and Fred M’membe, editor of The Post, Lusaka (1995).

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