Publisher Trevor Ncube accused Deputy Information Minister Energy Mutodi of incitement on Friday after a group of youths grabbed copies of NewsDay and the Zimbabwe Independent from vendors in Harare before burning them.
This came after Alpha Media Holdings (AMH) hiked the cover price of its three newspapers, ignoring government calls for businesses to maintain prices after the economy took a dramatic plunge.
Ncube, who has been vocal on social media in support of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, shielded the Zanu PF leader from criticism, aiming instead for Mutodi, appointed on September 7.
In a series of tweets, Ncube said: “Thugs burn newspapers. Aproximately 8.30AM today a group of young men transported in two cars attacked NewsDay and Zimbabwe Independent vendors and burnt newspapers.
“This was a well organised operation. The culprits are at Harare Central Police Station.
“As this was happening, Deputy Minister of Information Energy Mutodi called NewsDay editor Wisdom Mudzungairi threatening that he would fight AMH if we didn’t adjust the cover price of our newspapers. This conduct is regrettable and must be strongly condemned.
“On Wednesday, Mutodi tweeted a veiled threat saying newspaper price increases would not happen ‘under our watch’. The question is – is it him who organised these young people to commit this crime? So far, all indications point to this.”
But Ncube, careful not to offend Mnangagwa, said he believed the incident was isolated.
“I refuse to think we are back to those dark days,” he said, referring to when he says former Information Minister Jonathan Moyo made threats and the Daily News printing press was blown up a few days later in 2001, when President Robert Mugabe – deposed in a coup last November – was still in charge.
“I’m aware getting rid of Mugabeism in some people is a process not an event,” he said, giving Mnangagwa a wide berth.
The row between Ncube and Mutodi started when the deputy minister, in a tweet on October 10, criticised “unscrupulous businessmen” who were hiking prices after the economy went into freefall following new tax and foreign currency banking measures announced on October 1.
AMH raised the cover price of its newspapers, with the NewsDay and Standard going up from $1 to $2, and the Independent’s new retail price becoming $4 from $2.
Mutodi tweeted: “Newspaper prices to remain at $1: Following a government directive for unscrupulous businessmen to stop hiking prices, I am urging all newspapers to stop flying along the wind and keep their prices at $1. The media industry shall never be subject to speculative behaviour under our watch.”
The tweet stung Ncube, who responded: “I have increased the price of my goats. If you want to buy a goat or goats call me, don’t tweet. Better still DM me. I know what I feed my goats, so you will not decide how much I should charge. Not under my watch. Hawu!”
In a series of tweets that followed, Ncube explained that “we have been absorbing input costs for the last few months but we can’t anymore”, pointing out that the cost of newsprint had increased by 394 percent since March last year; ink by 33 percent; printing plates by 433 percent; diesel by nine percent and petrol by six percent.
“This is a necessary measure to ensure business continuity as we navigate the current economic turbulence… Doing nothing in the face of these aggressive price increases would be irresponsible.”