HARARE, Zimbabwe – The European Union said Wednesday that six Zimbabwean state-media journalists are on a sanctions list because their reporting incites hatred that media groups say has led to political violence.
EU Ambassador Aldo Dell'Ariccia said the journalists' work could be seen as an "incitement to hatred."
The journalists who fiercely support President Robert Mugabe are among some 200 individuals linked to Mugabe's party who face banking and travel bans from the EU, the US and Britain. The sanctions were imposed to protest years of rights violations in the southern African nation.
Mugabe called for elections this year to end a shaky coalition with the former opposition. Independent media groups say there has since been a surge in inflammatory reporting in pro-Mugabe media outlets, which has in turn fueled political violence.
Judith Makwanya, a reporter for Zimbabwe's sole television station, asked the EU envoy at a routine news conference Wednesday why she and senior colleagues were on the sanctions list.
Mugabe himself complained his state broadcaster was barred from accompanying him to the Vatican on Sunday to witness the beatification of Pope John Paul II. Chief television correspondent Reuben Barwe and representatives of state media houses who routinely travel with Mugabe were barred visas to pass through Rome.
In 2005, Mugabe was heavily criticized for attending the pope's funeral in St. Peter's Square. The European Union's visa ban on him doesn't apply to the Vatican.
On Tuesday, Mugabe's print and television media Tuesday accused Western countries of "muzzling" its journalists by adding them to the sanctions list during years of economic and political turmoil.
The state daily, the Herald, said the journalists had been "censored" by the West in reporting on international issues.
An international media protection group on Tuesday rated Zimbabwe's president among key "predators" against press freedom in Africa.
Reporters Without Borders criticized continuing harassment of the private media in Zimbabwe.
Despite some reforms under a power-sharing coalition formed with the former opposition in 2009, independent journalists have been arrested and assaulted, the group said.
Mugabe militants in recent weeks also attacked street sellers of two new independent daily newspapers and burned or tore up copies.
Unidentified raiders — believed by independent media campaigners to be linked to the military and intelligence services loyal to Mugabe — last week stole 11 computer hard drives from NewsDay, an independent daily launched last year in Harare, after it reported powerful army chief Gen. Constantine Chiwenga underwent medical treatment in China for an undisclosed but serious ailment.
The military denied its commander was ill but the reporter involved was detained by army officials and questioned about her sources.
At the height of media repression in recent years, the printing press of one independent newspaper was destroyed in a bombing using land mines and military-style explosives and expertise. No arrests were ever made in connection with that bombing in 2003.
U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe Charles Ray told a media gathering Tuesday there was increasing self-censorship in Zimbabwe under pressure from authorities.
"Journalists and publishers continue to be under threat for doing their work," he said.