A positive development in Zimbabwe this week when the government announced that after eight years, the BBC and CNN can now freely report from within the country. This breakthrough was the result of a series of meetings between the two broadcasting companies and senior government officials, including Zimbabwe’s Minister of Media, Information, and Publicity Webster Shamu.
This change in status is particularly significant for the BBC, which has had an especially tense relationship with the Zimbabwean government. Since its banning in 2001, BBC reporters have risked harassment and arrest by sneaking into Zimbabwe to report illegally. In a statement Minister Shamu noted that he and the BBC “acknowledged the need to put behind us the mutually ruinous relationship of the past.” Echoing those sentiments, the BBC world news editor, Jon Williams remarked, “we are pleased we have been able to reach an agreement and we look forward to being able to operate legally in Zimbabwe.”
Williams added that the government had placed no restrictions upon what the BBC could report on, and that it was considering whether or not it would open a full bureau in the country. In a post on a BBC blog, Williams concluded, “our presence in Zimbabwe this week, is a welcome, constructive, and important first step.” We would agree. In a country where the government has long sought to tightly control the world’s access to the ‘truth,’ this development is a positive sign that perhaps Zimbabwe is taking some tentative steps towards transparency and democracy.