The Zimbabwean government ordered the expulsion of a British reporter from the country today, escalating its offensive against foreign press coverage of alleged Army atrocities against civilians.
Nick Worrall, correspondent of The Manchester Guardian, was ordered by immigration authorities to leave by the end of the month after Information Minister Nathan Shamuyarira said the journalist's accreditation had been withdrawn and he had "been declared an undesirable person and an enemy of the people of Zimbabwe."
The minister specifically criticized Worrall's coverage of the military offensive against armed dissidents in Matabeleland. Numerous correspondents have reported from the area that troops have killed hundreds of civilians, many of whom are members of the party of self-exiled opposition leader Joshua Nkomo.
The foreign correspondents' association sent a letter to the minister strongly protesting the expulsion and appealing for reconsideration.
Government officials and the local media have made almost daily attacks on the foreign press since reports of the killings began two months ago. Two South Africa-based correspondents have been banned but Worrall is the first to be expelled from Zimbabwe. The Herald, the main government-controlled newspaper, has called for more expulsions and bannings.
Prime Minister Robert Mugabe started the attacks last month, saying, "For too long now we in the developing world have been fed with information and news as it is seen and interpreted by the western-controlled media. So much of it is incorrect, distorted and, in many cases, blatantly untrue."
Zimbabwe, he said, "has received more than its fair share of this biased reporting."
Correspondents, he said, "through selective and often inaccurate reporting, seek to ridicule us and cast grave doubts, within the international arena, upon our prospects for the future."
Sydney Sekeramayi, the minister of state for defense, last week accused the foreign press and some nongovernment organizations of becoming "front organizations for Nkomo's antigovernment, subversive and slanderous statements." He said they were spreading "malicious stories about the so-called atrocities committed by the security forces."
Six weeks ago he promised Parliament that he would investigate the allegations, but there has been no further mention of a probe.
The government policy has been to deny the reports.
Mugabe said the government will investigate charges if given concrete evidence, but he refused to comment on numerous reports of atrocities submitted by church, relief and embassy officials. Reporters have found that few victims are willing to be identified for fear of retaliation.
Diplomats say officials admit privately that some mistakes may have been made by the Army, but publicly the most that they will acknowledge is that some civilians "may have been killed in cross-fire."
That is the same terminology the white government, replaced by Mugabe three years ago, used when defending itself against allegations of atrocities committed by its army in the seven-year war against Mugabe's and Nkomo's guerrillas.
It undoubtedly galls government officials that there was far less reporting by the foreign press of such incidents under the white government, because of tighter press controls, more efficient propaganda, and possibly because some of the western correspondents were less inclined to question the statements of a white government.
The white government of prime minister Ian Smith expelled or banned scores of foreign correspondents, including Worrall's father, John, in 1969.
The government has retained one press practice of the Smith government: monitoring messages sent to or by reporters.
A government official recently complained to an ambassador about a message an editor sent to his correspondent suggesting a story.
In another case, intelligence agents visited a western correspondent in his hotel room shortly after he sent a message to his newspaper. They threatened to arrest him for sending a cable with secret coding.
The reporter explained that some of the letters were for access to his newspaper's computer and that the terms "NYT" and "LAT" referred to other American newspapers, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.
Finally, he was asked about a sentence in the message asking the newspaper office to telephone him "for dictation." The reporter said one of the agents asked, "Does this mean something like dictator?"