Press Freedom Day: Media rights lobby blasts govt ‘criminalisation’ of journalism

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By Robert Tapfumaneyi

MEDIA rights lobby, MISA-Zimbabwe has bemoaned government’s continued trust in regulating the affairs of journalists, 40 years after the country attained self-rule.

In a statement to mark World Press Freedom Day Sunday, Misa-Zimbabwe chair, Golden Maunganidze said it was sad the country was still entertaining criminalising the craft and practice of journalism and adopting ‘archaic’ broadcasting regulatory mechanisms.

Maunganidze said implementing genuine reforms anchored and underpinned by the Constitution was neither rocket science nor a gigantic project that required massive injection of resources to get of the ground.

“It is therefore our well-considered view that breaking with the past is about taking the great leap forward!” he said.

“MISA Zimbabwe therefore urges the government to live up to the letter and spirit of the Constitution through genuine and democratic media law and policy reforms and in line with regional and international instruments, it is state party to.

“Leadership, political willpower, national cohesion, and the desire to see beyond today as envisaged by historic, but futuristic legacy instruments such as the Windhoek Declaration, among others, is key in that regard.”

This years’ World Press Freedom Day was commemorated under the universal theme, “Journalism without Fear or Favour” and a local theme, “Free, independent & safe media key to access to information for all”.

Said Maunganidze, “These themes come at a time when journalists continue to be arrested, detained or assaulted while conducting their lawful professional duties of informing and providing vital information on pertinent socio-economic and political issues that affect citizens’ daily lives for them to make informed decisions.

“In 2019, MISA Zimbabwe recorded 27 violations involving journalists and artists whose media freedom and freedom of expression rights were violated.

“Several citizens have over the years also been arrested in terms of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act on charges of insulting the President.

“Recently, during the 21-lockdown period and prior to its extension, the organisation recorded 15 cases involving the arrests, assaults and harassment of journalists and newspaper vendors.

“These violations resulted in MISA Zimbabwe successfully filing for a High Court order barring the police and any other state security agents from arresting, detaining or interfering with the work of journalists.”

In a related development, and back-to-back with that application, MISA-Zimbabwe, filed yet another successful application with the High Court compelling the Health and Information Ministries, to promote citizens’ access to information pertaining to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“This should be viewed against the fact that 40 years after independence and on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration, Zimbabwe is still to license privately owned commercial television stations and community radio stations,” Maunganidze said.

“Having to resort to court applications to enforce constitutionally guaranteed rights, therefore speaks volumes about the government’s sincerity in entrenching the pillars of democracy and commitment to uphold the rights to media freedom, freedom of expression and access to information as provided for by Sections 61 and 62 of the Constitution, let alone other rights in the Bill of Rights.”

According to the Reporters Without Borders 2020 World Press Freedom Day Index, Zimbabwe is positioned at 126 out of 180 countries ranked globally.

This ranking should be a sobering and reflective moment for the Zimbabwe government considering that other Southern Africa Development Community countries such as Namibia, South Africa and Botswana are ranked at 23, 31 and 39, respectively.