A former sub-editor at The Daily News has come with a new theory on why the paper, which had become the biggest circulation daily in the country, may have opted not to register. He says the paper did not want to disclose its financial status because its financial records were in shambles.
Sources close to The Daily News, however, said while the paper was in financial trouble in 1999 and early 2000, it was financially sound at the time it was required to register. It was in fact doing so well that had it lived a year longer, it would have wiped out the Zimbabwe Newspapers’ (Zimpapers) dailies, The Herald and The Chronicle.
The Daily News was shut down in September 2003 for failing to register with the Media Information Commission (MIC) in terms of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA).
In a paper entitled: The ‘independent’ press and the fight for democracy in Zimbabwe: a critical analysis of the banned Daily News published last month as part of the Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture, Dumisani Moyo, who is now at the University of Oslo in Norway, says the question of what or who really led to the closure of The Daily News may never be adequately answered.
Moyo was a sub-editor at the paper from January to September 1999. He says that the most popular view in the media, both local and international, is that the paper was closed for defying AIPPA, a law whose constitutionality it was challenging in the courts.
“This view presents the paper as having heroically taken a principled stand against a repressive law. As such, it is an innocent victim of a repressive government,” he says.
But, he notes that founding editor Geoff Nyarota said the passing of AIPPA and the appointment of Samuel Sipepa Nkomo as chief executive officer of Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ), publishers of The Daily News, was directly responsible for the collapse of The Daily News.
Nyarota is reported to have argued that the failure by Nkomo to register the paper was less to do with the defiance of an unjust law but probably more to do with the genuine failure by The Daily News to present the MIC, which is tasked with registering newspapers, with details of the ANZ’s finances.
Moyo says though Nyarota’s argument can easily be written off as sentiments coming from a bitter man who had been unceremoniously removed from a paper he founded, “it is highly probable that The Daily News could not provide a financial statement because this would expose their foreign funding, when such funding was no longer permissible under the new law”.
He backs this argument by once again quoting Nyarota who reportedly said that “at the time of the deadline for registration, the financial records of ANZ were in total shambles. The company’s financial manager had just been forced to resign for that reason and his successor was still trying to come to terms with the major task of reconciling the books”.
Nyarota was dismissed from The Daily News at about the time the paper was supposed to register.
Nkomo is reported to have agreed with publishers of other independent papers to register and then challenge the constitutionality of AIPPA after doing so.
Other independent papers like The Financial Gazette, The Independent and The Standard registered but the ANZ did not.
A former ANZ employee who was in the inner circles of The Daily News said Moyo was off the mark. The paper was in a sound financial position at the time it was required to register.
He was right though that the paper had objected to disclosing its financial position but this did not relate to its financial standing at the time. It was opposed to disclosing its five-year business plan as this was likely to land in the hands of its competitor, Zimpapers.
“The ANZ was worried that if it disclosed its business plan for the next five years to MIC, this could easily be passed on to Zimpapers because the Minister of Information would have access to this plan. This would have provided an unfair advantage to our competitor.
“The company would probably have had no problem disclosing this information if the government was not involved in the newspaper business,” the former employee said.
ANZ, however, lost this argument at the Supreme Court but still argues that it should not be compelled to disclose this information. The company is currently appealing through the courts to be registered so that it can resume operations.
The former employee said if The Daily News had survived another year, Zimpapers would have been driven out of business.
The Daily News had become the biggest circulation daily in the country and was getting more advertising than it could accommodate at the time it was shut down. It was, however, still not getting as much government advertising as Zimpapers. This would probably have kept Zimpapers going.