For these reasons, the United States has partnered with Unesco to host the official global commemoration of World Press Freedom Day in the US for the first time.
Zimbabwe has seen some real progress for press freedom in the print media sector with new players receiving permits and entering the market.
Zimbabwean media consumers can now choose from seven different daily newspapers, each striving to make its mark in a dramatically more competitive print market. This is good for the average citizen, who can now choose, compare and contrast among print news sources.
However, these developments stand out in an environment that is still dominated by legal restrictions on media reporting and a closed, ideological broadcasting sector monopolised by one political party. The mobile telecommunications sector offers consumers an exciting new alternative as it starts to open access to the internet via cellphones.
One can easily see that Zimbabwe will follow South Africa’s lead in rapidly developing an active online community and media environment. Due to the lack of innovation and modernisation in the broadcast sector, online media is playing a more and more critical role as an information source and debate platform for engaged Zimbabweans.
The theme for this year’s World Press Freedom Day, “21st Century Media, New Media, New Barriers”, is very apt in Zimbabwe and across the continent of Africa. The world has witnessed dramatic change recently thanks to social media users and followers in the Middle East and North Africa.
In many countries in the region — including Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Syria — the internet is serving as a catalyst for journalists, activities, and citizens alike to connect with each other and share their stories and call for change with the world.
The internet is the global gate which has amplified demands for freedom of expression, facilitated vibrant and open discussions on a wide range of topics and connected citizens with each other around the world. Indeed, access to information has been profoundly altered with the arrival of the digital age.
In this new public space crowded with news and chatter, journalists play an essential role in searching for truth, analysing trends, maintaining credibility and providing reports to serve the public good.
Undoubtedly, the arrival of the digital age — the evolution of the internet, the emergence of new forms of media and the rise of online social networks — has sparked debate as to what it means to be a journalist, what role bloggers play, and what the effect of a blurring of lines between citizen journalists and professionals will be on the media of today and tomorrow.
Zimbabwe, and indeed the world, is facing a critical transformative moment in its history. Around the world people are calling out for freedom, transparency, and self-determination. New digital tools are supporting this cause in a way that is faster and more widespread than ever before, and journalists are playing a central role in this effort.
Unfortunately, many of them have been killed or injured as they’ve sought to report on the grave challenges facing our world today. It is up to each of us to honour their legacy and do all we can — both virtually and in reality — to support press freedom as a fundamental right to be enjoyed by everyone, everywhere.
Charles Ray is the US Ambassador, in Harare.