Geoffrey Nyarota of Zimbabwe awarded World Press Freedom Prize 2002Paris - Zimbabwean journalist Geoffrey Nyarota, editor-in-chief of Zimbabwe’s only independent daily newspaper, the Daily News, was today awarded the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize for 2002 by UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura.
The $25,000 prize is awarded each year on the recommendation of an independent jury of journalists from all over the world. It will be presented in Manila (Philippines) on May 3 at a ceremony organized by UNESCO to celebrate World Press Freedom Day.
The jury was chaired by Jamaica’s Oliver Clarke, Chairman of Gleaner Company Limited, who declared: “I am particularly pleased that somebody from Africa has been chosen by the jury. In view of the general elections taking place in Zimbabwe in March, it is very important that there is an active and independent press in Zimbabwe; so that voters may know what is happening in the country. We hope that Mr Nyarota will be able to come to Manila and that Mr U Win Tin, the Myanmar winner of the Prize in 2001; who has been in jail since 1989, will be release and will join us too.”
Mr Nyarota, 50, has been tireless in denouncing corruption and criminal activities among top government officials in his country despite two bomb attacks against his paper. He has beenarrested and detained, repeatedly received death threats, and has four libel suits pending against him.
“The courage and persistence of Geoffrey Nyarota, who has not yielded to the enormous pressure on him in the last few years, is an example to all the world’s journalists,” Matsuura said.
The government of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has been criticized for attempting to silence journalists. Information minister Jonathan Moyo even told a Daily News reporter early this year: “We are now going to target individual journalists.”
In this atmosphere of persecution and harassment of the independent media, Nyarota had paid dearly for his professional commitment as a reporter. In 1983, he lost his job at the The Chronicle in Bulawayo - then one of the country’s few papers to denounce government corruption - because he broke the story on the “Willowgate” scandal that forced the resignation of five cabinet ministers. The paper’s management said it was removing him for “his own safety.” In 1991, hewas named editor of the weekly Financial Gazette, but was dismissed in a dispute over editorial control.
He then joined the Nordic School of Journalism in Maputo (Mozambique) and taught in several southern African countries before returning to Zimbabwe in 1998 to found the Associated Newspaper of Zimbabwe and, on March 31, 1999, the Daily News.
The biggest battle the paper has fought in its brief existence has been over its coverage of the invasion of white-owned farms by war veterans encouraged bythe ruling ZANU-PF party. Mr Nyarota was arrested for denouncing the use of police vehicles in the pillages. Nyarota’s criticism of this campaign was part of the reason for the party’s losses at the May 2000 elections. On April 18 of that year, the journalist received a letter containing a death threat. Three days later; the Daily News offices were bombed. One week later, a call from the ZANU-PF Headquarters warned that a bomb had been placed on the premises of the paper. Four months later, a man admitted he had been contracted by the security forces to kill Mr Nyarota.
In January 2001, a bomb exploded at the paper’s printing plant in Harare, but the Daily News has not missed a single issue since then and is now the country’s biggest-selling paper, with a circulation that far exceeds that of the government-controlled Herald.
Nyarota, who has been arrested several times, currently faces four libel suits, all relating to articles denouncing corruption among government officials.
World Press Freedom Day and the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano Press Freedom Prize are part of UNESCO’s work for the free flow of information, along with its activities to boost freedom of expression, independence and pluralism of the media.
The prize, created by UNESCO’s Executive Board in 1997, aims to honour the work of an individual, organization or institution defending or promoting freedom of expression anywhere in the world, especially if this put the person’s life at risk. The prize is named after Colombian journalist Guillermo Cano, who was murdered for having criticized the activities of his country’s powerful drug barons. Candidates are put forward by regional and international organizations that promote freedom of expression.
The previous journalists who won WorldPress Freedom Prize are: U Win Tin (Myanmar), 2001; Nizar Nayyouf (Syria), 2000; Jesus Blancornelas (Mexico), 1999; Christina Anyanwu (Nigeria), 1998; and Gao Yu (China), 1997.