Acute shortage of newsprint hits newspaper companies

Tafataona Mahoso

MASVINGO – An acute shortage of newsprint has brought Zimbabwe’s newspaper industry down to its knees and closure of national and regional papers is imminent unless Government intervenes with injections of the much needed foreign currency.

All national publishers including Zimpapers which publishes The Herald and The Sunday Mail, Associated Newspaper Group which publishes The Daily News and Financial Gazette and AMH which publishes the Independent, News Day and The Standard said they have resorted to the black market for foreign currency to buy newsprint, a development that is making business extremely unviable.

The Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Enterprise Development confirmed the situation and said Zimbabwe is using scarce foreign currency to import the 16 000 tonnes that it requires for its annual consumption.

The Ministry further said that the short term solution to the problem is for allocation of foreign currency to newspaper organisations.

Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) chief executive officer, Dr Tafataona Mahoso said he was aware of the problem and was planning to have an urgent meeting with the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Enterprise Development and the Reserve Bank.

He said that the problem was so dire that it may soon affect the right to access information which is enshrined in the Constitution of Zimbabwe.

Newspaper industry players told The Mirror that newsprint is not just in short supply but newspaper production has become twice more expensive since January because foreign currency to source the commodity is being obtained on the black market.

The Mirror also spoke to the major suppliers of newsprint in the country including Rank, Hansbro Zimbabwe, Paroan Vista and Global Papers and they all said that they have had no newsprint supplies for the last four months and the situation is getting even worse as they only expect fresh supplies in October.

The Ministry of Industry and Commerce also attributed the shortages to closure of factories by newsprint manufacturers in Zimbabwe including Mutare Board and Paper, Kadoma Paper and Norton Paper Mills in 2008.
In a statement to The Mirror the Ministry said newsprint is being imported from South Africa, Canada, Russia and Brazil.

“Shortage of forex is an industry-wide problem and prices have shot up astronomically because of that. We are in the process of bringing together all stakeholders in the media industry so that we come up with one position that we are going to present to the Ministry of Industry and Commerce.

“The cost of printing material has gone up but there is no association of publishers in the newspaper industry to speak with one voice. We need a combined delegation to see Minister Bimha and the Reserve Bank,” said Dr Mahoso.

The Ministry said the shortage of newsprint in Zimbabwe is exacerbated by a global shortage caused by the closure of  paper mills all over the world due to declining global demand in turn caused by the rise of electronic media.
South Africa which has been one of Zimbabwe’s major suppliers of newsprint has seen Mondi closing shop leaving that country with just one supplier which is SAPPI. SAPPI however, can no longer meet demand and now concentrates on supplying the South African market.

The alternative to South African suppliers is to import from South Korea, Russia, Canada, Malaysia and Brazil but importing from these countries is a logistical challenge and more expensive said a statement from the Ministry.
The Ministry called for the resuscitation and refurbishment of Mutare Board and paper Mill as a long term solution and there are good chances countries like Zambia and Malawi will end up importing from Zimbabwe.

The permanent secretary in the Ministry of Media Information and Broadcasting Services, George Charamba said he was not aware of the challenges and advised publishers to approach the Ministry of Industry and Commerce.