Zimbabwe to protest to South Africa over 'pirate' 1st TV

Supporters of President Robert Mugabe
Image caption Robert Mugabe has been busy campaigning around the country

Zimbabwe's government says it will protest to South Africa over a "pirate" TV station which is to be based there ahead of this month's elections.

1st TV is due to be launched later on Friday and will be broadcast into Zimbabwe by satellite.

Zimbabwe's state-run TV, which has a domestic monopoly, is widely seen as being biased in favour of President Robert Mugabe.

1st TV's head used to work closely with Mr Mugabe's rival, Morgan Tsvangirai.

Mr Tsvangirai has been prime minister in a coalition government with Mr Mugabe since 2009 but key reforms of sectors such as the media and security forces have not been implemented ahead of the elections.

Regional heavyweight South Africa helped broker the power-sharing deal and is still trying to mediate between the rivals in order to avoid a repeat of the violence which marred the 2008 election.

Mr Tsvangirai pulled out of the second round, accusing pro-Mugabe militias and the security forces of attacking his supporters after he gained most votes in the first round.

On Thursday, Lindiwe Zulu, South African President Jacob Zuma's special adviser on Zimbabwe, told Reuters news agency: "We are concerned because things on the ground are not looking good."

She has previously said the elections should be postponed from 31 July, prompting Mr Mugabe to call her "stupid and idiotic".

Two days of early voting for members of Zimbabwe's security forces on Sunday and Monday saw many logistical problems, such as a lack of ballot papers, raising fears that the election will not go smoothly.

Southern African countries are due to meet to discuss Zimbabwe's elections over the weekend.

Zimbabwe's state-run Herald newspaper suggests that South African parastatal Sentech may be facilitating 1st TV's broadcasts.

"We are not very sure if the South African government is aware of what its parastatal is doing to hurt Zimbabwean interests. We will pursue diplomatic channels,'' it quotes Media, Information and Publicity permanent secretary George Charamba, a close ally of the president, as saying.

"We will be taking decisions mindful of the need to cripple this pirate television broadcast station,'' Mr Charamba said.

The Herald says 1st TV is funded by the UK government, which it has long accused of trying to oust Mr Mugabe because of his policy of seizing white-owned land.

The British embassy in Harare told the BBC it could not comment on individual grants because of the current context in Zimbabwe but said it worked with "various civil society organisations to help create a vibrant space for Zimbabweans to participate, freely debate, discuss and share information".

"We think greater access to impartial and factual information along with diverse views helps inform Zimbabweans of their democratic choices," it said.

"Access to multiple sources of information through different media enhances the electoral process."

Andrew Chadwick, Mr Tsvangirai's former communications director, refused to reveal the sources of 1st TV's funding.

"The majority of our investors are private," he told the BBC earlier this week.

"We've also received support from groups supporting human rights, freedom and democracy."

He denied that 1st TV would be biased in favour of Mr Tsvangirai, saying it would be impartial, in contrast to the pro-Mugabe ZBC.

1st TV says it can be viewed for free by hundreds of thousands of people in Zimbabwe.

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