The not-so-shocking, perhaps-even-amusing news that hapless former congressman Mel Reynolds has been arrested in Zimbabwe for alleged possession of pornography got big play in Wednesday's Sun-Times (here and here and here) and more modest treatment in the Tribune, but both papers relied heavily on reporting in Zimbabwe's Herald, a state-controlled daily.
Not an ideal source, the Herald. Not a source a Chicago paper would normally give the time of day.
Reynolds reportedly has hailed Zimbabwe's strong man, Robert Mugabe, as "one of the last lions of Africa," sucking-up that adds piquancy to his present predicament. But Mugabe, who's been in power 33 years and turns 90 this Friday, is no lion of a free press. The most recent Freedom House report on press freedom in Zimbabwe rated the nation's press "not free" and reported that "a draconian legal framework continues to inhibit the activities of journalists and media outlets."
As for the Herald specifically, its "propagandistic coverage favors Mugabe" and Mugabe's party.
Reporters Without Borders goes farther. It's posted an "indictment" that accuses Mugabe of "suppressing freedom of expression . . . exercising strict control over the state media . . . constantly harassing the privately-owned print media . . . introducing laws that have drastically curtailed media freedom . . . placing reporters and editors under surveillance . . . having opposition activists and journalists arrested . . ."
Ranking the world's nations in press freedom from first (Finland) to 179th and worst (Eritrea), Reporters Without Borders placed Zimbabwe 133rd.
It might not be enough simply to identify the Herald as a state-controlled paper. The Chicago papers should consider advising readers that nothing in the Herald should be trusted.