A news producer employed by the ABC in Nairobi says he now fears for his life after he was named in an email distributed by an ABC News executive today (31 August). He also says he may now have no choice but to become a refugee.
The producer, who is a Zimbabwean citizen now based at the ABC’s bureau in the Kenyan capital, is very well known within the corporation, but his identity has been kept secret for his own safety.
The man has worked for the ABC for many years and was initially hired as a “local hire” producer when ABC News had a bureau in Johannesburg, where he was living in exile from his homeland due to his journalism activities.
The Johannesburg bureau was closed in 2013 and when it was moved north to Kenya, the producer was asked to move there as well, where he played an instrumental role in its inception.
But in the widely-distributed email, the news executive named the journalist as an ABC employee. The ABC is well-known in Zimbabwe for being critical of its governments and, in particular, its late president Robert Mugabe.
As well as smuggling many reports out of Zimbabwe for the ABC, the producer was instrumental in a documentary which was broadcast on SBS, Mugabe’s Calling Card, which is infamous in Harare.
Zimbabwe is now governed by President Emmerson Mnangagwa — a close confidant and friend of Mugabe. President Mnangagwa was Minister of State Security and ran the country’s intelligence services in the Mugabe Government.
In an ABC email to staff, it was announced that, due to budget restrictions, the Nairobi bureau would close in January next year.
The email stated:
...After some consideration we're proposing to close the Africa bureau next January.
This coincides with the departure of our long time Africa producer [name withheld by Independent Australia].
This isn't a decision we are taking lightly.
Our Africa bureau has produced some great stories over the years and been the base for some fabulous correspondents.
But as you know we haven't had a correspondent in Africa for the best part of two years and given the budget pressures the ABC is under, we feel that now is the right time to act.
I want to be clear that this proposal doesn't mean that the international budget will be reduced.
The current funding will be retained and shifted to other areas of our coverage of the world.
We will still continue to pursue stories from Africa out of the Middle East and India (when we return there) and we'll be working to establish relationships with stringers and fixers that we can regularly work with.
The producer in question says that he fears Zimbabwean operatives in Australia or Kenya will now find out his identity and hunt him down for his work for the ABC and other broadcasters. He says he was not consulted about the email and that it was the first official announcement he had had regarding the bureau’s closure.
Although the producer had conversations with the ABC’s Sydney headquarters, in which he expressed his fear for his own safety, the ABC allegedly did not extend him the courtesy of advising that the bureau was to close in January.
The Zimbabwean citizen will now have no choice but to return to Zimbabwe to face likely retribution, or to flee as a political refugee.
Since the departure of the last Australian ABC correspondent to work in Nairobi, Africa has been covered remotely from both India and Israel, with reporters flying in to present stories that were set-up by the Zimbabwean producer, who conducted interviews for them.
It is alleged that the ABC has not given consideration to bringing the man to Australia as it did previously for a similar local-hire producer in Afghanistan.
It’s also understood a number of past and present ABC foreign correspondents have written to ABC News Division executives to express their concerns.
The ABC was contacted today but at the time of publication had not yet replied to inquiries.
Jeff Waters is a former ABC national and international journalist and author of two non-fiction books.
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