Al Jazeera International establishes landmark Zimbabwe bureau

Al Jazeera International has become the only international broadcaster with a bureau in Harare, following the opening of its new office in the Zimbabwean capital last week.

The channel has appointed former BBC World Service journalist Farai Sevenzo as the Zimbabwe correspondent, and he will be accompanied by cameraman/producer Cyrus Nhara.

Al Jazeera International's director of news, Steve Clark, told Press Gazette: "It is possible to sneak into Zimbabwe, secretly film and sneak out again, and carry whatever you like with no reaction or comment from the government.

"I would much prefer to go into Zimbabwe, shoot whatever we like and then get the reaction from the government. It's something that nobody else is doing at the moment, and we are the only news network with a bureau there."

According to US-based pressure group Africa Action, no other country in southern Africa faces such intense government action against independent media as Zimbabwe.

In 2002, a law was passed requiring all journalists and media companies to register with the government-controlled Media and Information Commission, meaning that foreign journalists are regularly denied visas to file stories from Zimbabwe.

The BBC is currently banned in Zimbabwe, where the government has proscribed it as a "terrorist organisation".

Clark said that he assumed that the attraction for Robert Mugabe's government was that Al Jazeera International had no domestic agenda, whereas "rightly or wrongly" the BBC was seen as having one.

He said that he was extremely optimistic that Sevenzo and Nhara will be able to report whatever they want.

Clark said: "I told the government ministers that they should think very carefully before they let us in, because there would be times when they might not like what we report, and if they were to expel us, it would reflect worse on them than on us.

"They were very frank and open and said, ‘No, no. Please come in.' We intend to go there and report objectively and honestly on any stories we do. We'll see what happens."

Local correspondents for foreign publications, particularly those whose have been critical of Robert Mugabe's government, have been refused accreditation or threatened with lawsuits and deportation.

Clark, who was educated in Zimbabwe, said the country was obviously a major target for Al Jazeera, because it was so difficult to get news out of there.

He added: "Africa is massively underreported. There is much more to the continent than AIDS, famine and war, Sevenzo: correspondent so there are lots of stories to be told."

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