Harare - Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's spokesperson has warned new laws will be brought in to deal with media houses who report on factions within the ruling party, the state-controlled Sunday Mail said.
Apparently angered by growing coverage in the private media on intra-party squabbles as the 91-year-old Mugabe gets older, George Charamba insisted there were no factions in Zanu-PF, only "personality clashes”.
Backed by often-unnamed sources in Zanu-PF, Zimbabwe's private press is currently focussing on a relatively new power struggle apparently between supporters of vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa and those of First Lady Grace Mugabe.
Grace Mugabe, 50, herself decried - but did not deny - factionalism at a rally in eastern Zimbabwe on Thursday.
Charamba accused the private press, which has been under threat since Zanu-PF pushed repressive press laws through parliament in 2002, of "manipulative reporting".
Speaking to the Sunday Mail, he said: "I will recommend most effective ways of controlling errant behaviour in the newsroom. So you will have a piece of legislation that seeks to restrain rather than to enable media practices."
"You can't tell me that from day to last day, it's Mnangagwa this, Mnangagwa that, Grace Mugabe this, Grace Mugabe that, Kasukuwere this, Kasukuwere that. From January to December, is that the only reality in the world?" Charamba was quoted as saying.
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Local Government Minister Saviour Kasukuwere is said to belong to a faction of younger ZANU-PF officials nicknamed the G (Generation) 40. Mugabe's nephew Patrick Zhuwao, recently appointed indigenisation minister, is believed to be an ally.
Reports say G40 members are pushing for Grace Mugabe to succeed her husband, rather than Mnangagwa who has been widely considered heir-in-waiting since his appointment as vice president last December.
In a lengthy interview which was published in full in the paper, the presidential spokesperson accused the private press of trying to "force the succession question".
"There are no factions in Zanu-PF post December (when VP Joice Mujuru was sacked). There are personality clashes, there are perception differences, there are abrasive ambitions for posts," he said.
"The media has to be free but the media has to be professional," Charamba said.
"Don't feel unfairly treated when the hammer descends on you."
Zimbabwe's worst days for press freedom occurred after the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) was passed. The laws saw dozens of local journalists arrested, several newspapers shut down and some foreign reporters arrested and deported. AIPPA was slightly amended ahead of elections in 2008.
Zimbabweans on social media pointed out that the state-controlled press gives a lot of coverage to splits in the opposition.
Twitter handle @ZimMediaReview also highlighted Charamba's assertion in the Sunday Mail that Mugabe was "not even worried by these reports" on factionalism.
"If the President is not worried, why then does Charamba think laws to gag the media are necessary?" @ZimMediaReview asked.