By Staff Reporter
THE Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)-Zimbabwe has written to Police Commissioner General Godwin Matanga to urge police restraint when dealing with journalists who would be pursuing their duties during a new 30-day national lockdown just imposed by government to try and prevent the further spread of coronavirus.
This comes after journalists were subjected to humiliating acts of abuses which included assaults, arrests and detentions when the country first went into a lockdown in March last year.
During the period, some overzealous police operatives and soldiers denied many journalists passage at security check points insisting the media was not covered under essential services allowed to work throughout the enforced job break.
However, through its national chairperson Golden Maunganidze and while anticipating similar cases, MISA-Zimbabwe, a prominent lobby that has fronted the protection of media rights in the country, has urged the “safety and security of journalists during the Covid-19 lockdown”.
“…MISA Zimbabwe is humbly reaching out and appealing to your esteemed offices to ensure the safety and security of journalists, who in terms of the regulations are providers of essential services,” reads the letter to the boss commander.
“Our appeal and concern on the safety and security of journalists is informed by the media freedom violations that ensued when the country implemented the first national lockdown measures in March 2020.”
Maunganidze cited abuses visited upon several journalists last year when police accused the media of violating Covid-19 regulations as well as performing their duties using the then expired Zimbabwe Media Commission-issued accreditation cards.
Following the abuses last year, MISA Zimbabwe was forced to obtain a High Court order barring the police and other lockdown enforcement agencies from arresting, detaining or interfering “in any unnecessary way” with the work of journalists.
Furthers reads the MISA letter, “In light of the current national lockdown, MISA Zimbabwe is therefore appealing to your esteemed office, to ensure that journalists as providers of essential services conduct their professional responsibilities of disseminating and facilitating access to information on the pandemic and government’s measures and efforts to contain the virus, without any hindrance.
“It is our very well-considered view that the obtaining situation requires urgent professional co-operation and constant communication between the police, the Zimbabwe Media Commission and the media players.
“This is critical given that the 2021 accreditation fees are still to be gazetted while the accreditation cards for this year have not yet been issued.
“The ZMC should therefore consider decentralizing its accreditation processes for the convenience of journalists in line with the new lockdown measures.”
MISA appealed with Matanga to use his office to relay to “all police stations in the country for purposes of ensuring that journalists will not be arrested or harassed for using the accreditation cards issued last year”.
“MISA Zimbabwe, therefore, urges critical stakeholders to co-operate in protecting and promoting media freedom to ensure timely, accurate and verifiable information on COVID-19 and the measures that can be taken to prevent contamination and spreading of the virus.
“In turn, the media should be professional in conducting its lawful duties and ethical responsibilities in line with the profession’s codes and ethics while also being mindful of the profession’s safety and security measures,” Maunganidze said.