ZIMBABWEANS have little to celebrate on World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) commemorations today as the media remains under siege from government and “corporate bullies”, stakeholders have said.
BY MOSES MATENGA
Media analysts and organisations said although government was promising to implement various laws that guaranteed media freedom, the emergence of corporate bullies was a worrying development.
Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) secretary general Foster Dongozi said there was reason to mourn the coming up of “bullies” using their influence to silence the media.
“There are other gloomy areas where there is nothing to celebrate, including access to newspapers. The pricing is beyond reach of the ordinary people so they remain starved of information,” he said.
“The economic environment has seen several media houses close shop or stagger salaries or not pay at all. There is also the continued harassment of journalists by people aligned to government, aligned to political parties and corporates, like in the case of the raid by Steward Bank of The Source.”
He added: “The harassment by corporate bullies should give us reason to mourn instead of celebrating. The emergence of other predators in the form of media bullies and developments at The Source are indicators of bad things coming. We can begin mourning when we see such things happen.”
Dongozi said the ill-treatment of journalists by the state was giving society power to abuse the media. He cited the attack on NewsDay reporter Winstone Antonio by ex-wife of Sungura musician Aleck Macheso, Tafadzwa at a gig in Harare.
He said there was very little to celebrate on the statement of intent by government to remove some “barbaric” laws that affected media operations.
Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe executive director Loughty Dube said a lot of things had to be addressed before Zimbabwe could talk of press freedom.
“What we might celebrate maybe are the gains under the new Constitution but these provisions are useless on paper if not implemented into the general law. Unless that is done, we will have press freedom on paper and the media will continue to be harassed,” Dube said.
“We urge authorities to implement the constitutional provisions and unless that is done, we are where we were 10 years ago.”
The Media Institute of Southern Africa — Zimbabwe chapter also said it was a cause for concern that close to two years after the new Constitution, Zimbabwe was still to align several of its restrictive media laws with the country’s supreme law.
“Free journalistic enterprise, journalism safety and professionalism, cannot thrive in an environment chocking with a raft of repressive media laws such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act [Aippa], Broadcasting Services Act, Interception of Communications Act, Official Secrets Act and Criminal Defamation, among others,” Misa said.
It said in a statement that government should work on measures that guaranteed the safety of journalists in discharging their duties.
The Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations (Zacras) said it remained concerned that the broadcasting sub-sector has remained incomplete as a result of the absence of licensed community radios.
“It is saddening that Zimbabwe remains one of very few countries in the region without community radios that are licensed, an area which needs attention as a matter of urgency. It is only through a diversified media that citizens’ choices are enhanced and promoted,” said Zacras in a statement.
“The need to democratise broadcasting media cannot be overemphasised and we urge the government of Zimbabwe to license community radios.”
To safeguard and promote media interests, Zacras called for the repealing of laws which have been used to negate media freedom. The laws include the Aippa, Broadcasting Services Act, Interception of Communications Act, Official Secrets Act and Criminal Codification and Reform Act.
“The repealing of these laws will play a significant role in promoting the much-needed access to information and freedom of expression — which are key principles of a free media,” Zacras said.
“It is disheartening that the 2015 WPFD commemorations come at a time when the media in Zimbabwe is facing serious sustainability challenges. As such, we urge all relevant stakeholders to come up with a policy framework which supports a more sustainable media in Zimbabwe.”
Amnesty International bemoaned the increasing threats on journalists doing their work in southern African countries such as Zimbabwe, South Africa, Swaziland and Angola and called on governments to respect the media profession.
Amnesty International’s director for southern Africa Deprose Muchena called on state security personnel to desist from targeting media practitioners.
“In countries such as South Africa, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Angola we are seeing a disturbing pattern of journalists being targeted simply for doing their work,” he said.
“Journalism is not a crime. It is a profession like any other and it should be seen as such. States security agents must stop targeting journalists.”
This year’s theme for the World Press Freedom Day commemorations is Let Journalism Thrive! Towards Better Reporting, Gender Equality, & Media Safety in the Digital Age.