Remember the bombing...

HARARE - What jogged my memory, for the first time, was the First Lady Grace Mugabe singling out reporters of the Daily News, during her “meet-the-people” jaunt around the country.

She seemed determined to “dress them down” publicly, using pretty strong language to denounce the newspaper and what she considered to be its unpalatable content.

What all this reminded me of was January 28, 2001: the day or night on which “persons unknown” blew up the second-hand printing press of the same newspaper in an industrial area of Harare.

The paper would not have been published the next day, if it hadn’t been for the generosity and courage of Trevor Ncube, who kindly agreed to have it printed on his printing press.

We all knew how the enemies of the paper would react, when they saw an edition of the paper being sold, as if in celebration, on the streets of the cities and towns — to joyful, celebrating readers.

We would never know what foul language the enemies of the paper used when they saw it being sold on the streets. As far as I can remember, they did not resort to grabbing copies from the vendors and shredding them to pieces — which they had done, at some point in the past.

As far as I can remember, no other newspaper in the country had provoked such anger among a section of the population to the extent that their only wish was for it to be “killed”.

As far as I know, there has been no publication of a survey conducted by anyone of the attitude of the enemies of the paper on why they believed it ought never to have been published at all.

It was officially registered with the government to be published, but only ceased publication in 2003 when the government decreed that it be banned.

To many libertarians in and out of the country, the banning of the Daily News and the Daily News on Sunday constituted a shameful example of the government of President Robert Mugabe’s interpretation of democracy in practice.

The condemnation was also worldwide. I have no recollection of any newspapers praising the ban on the two newspapers.

Of course, when the government repented, by letting the newspapers return to publication, there were celebrations among supporters of the freedom of the media in the world.

There were also some plaudits for the government, which had grudgingly let the papers return to publication, without exacting any punishment from the publishers.

The major lesson learnt — by anyone willing to look honestly at the scenario — was that if any newspaper hopes to compete with others by peddling only untruths, against the truths of the competition, it would lose hands down.

By the time the government had banned the two papers, its own circulation of The Herald had slumped to 40 000, against the 120 000 of the Daily News.

There are, curiously, people working for the government media who insist that the Zimpapers titles still sell more newspapers than those of the independent publishers.

The naked truth is that all people, wherever they are in the world, love to be treated with a measure of respect by editors.

As readers, they expect only respect from newspaper editors. Once the editors mistake their attitude as one resembling stupidity, then they are sacrificing their circulation, which the successive editors of the standard-bearer of the Zimpapers stable, The Herald, have learnt, to their grief, time and time again. 

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