As journalists across the globe celebrate World Press Freedom Day this week, it is a different case in Zimbabwe where media violations are still the order of the day.
Engagements between the media and the police have always been recorded as successful, surety coming from the state that journalists are free to execute their duties without hustle.
Sadly, this has not been the case on the ground as where journalist arrests, attacks and intimidation are still rife.
Arrested for covering an Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) planned demonstration at Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube offices, New Zimbabwe journalist Leopold Munhende equated the arrest to ‘… the day he committed journalism.’
Is journalism a crime? This remains an answered question following actions on journalist by Zimbabwe uniformed forces.
Covid-19 did not spare the safety of journalists as the state through bureaucracy; secrecy and absence of an open government system have become major stumbling blocks to the enjoyment of the right to accessing information in the country.
Kudzanai Musengi, a freelance journalist was the first victim to face arrest in the Zimbabwe lockdown period for operating without a valid press card amid government postponement of the process in a bid to revise accreditation fees.
He was later released without any charge laid against him.
“It was frustrating to be taken in for something I knew was silly,” said Musengi upon his release.
Assaults have not only affected male journalists but female reporters also as New Zimbabwe’s Mary Taruvinga faced harassment from members of the army while on her way to work.
The whirlwind jeopardising a free press has even attacked news paper vendors.
Recently, during the 21-lockdown period and prior to its extension, MISA Zimbabwe recorded 15 cases involving the arrests, assaults and harassment of journalists and newspaper vendors.
Seeing the rise in harassments, MISA took the government of Zimbabwe to court.
As if surprised, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information; Nick Mangwana wrote on Twitter, “I don’t know. All I know is we were all in one accord and engaging progressively until MISA Zimbabwe took us to court without as much as a text. Yet we talk and have great laughs and easily find each other as we have always done.”
An apt reply however came from MISA director; Thabani Moyo, “…we are on same page …journalists must be allowed to work. Both of us lost control on the behavior of the police. We therefore invite aunty to mediate…the objective remains journalists be allowed to work. No love…No laugh lost.”
“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,” wrote MISA Zimbabwe in their World Press Freedom Day statement.
Access to information is also provided for in regional and international pacts to which Zimbabwe is a signatory and these include Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR).
According to the Reporters Without Borders 2020 World Press Freedom Day Index, Zimbabwe is positioned at 126 out of 180 countries ranked globally.
“While MISA Zimbabwe welcomes the Ministry of Information’s open door policy and engagements with media stakeholders in its quest to break with the past, the ultimate objective and outcome should be that of entrenching the pillars of democracy as pledged by President Emmerson Mnangangwa,” further wrote MISA Zimbabwe in their statement.
Towards media liberalisation, Zimbabwe has proposed the, Zimbabwe Media Commission Bill, Freedom of Information Bill and the Broadcasting Services Amendment Bill, developments to which media organizations have said are far from implementing reforms enshrined in the constitution.
Media Monitors, in a research following public consultations of the Freedom of Information Bill recommended that, “…the Bill needs to make provisions for an independent oversight body that regulates access to and perhaps also protection of personal information,” among other given recommendations.
The Bills further come in a time government is yet to register community radio stations and private television stations, 40 years after attaining independence.
The United Nations General Assembly declared May 3 to be World Press Freedom Day, observed to raise awareness of the importance of freedom of the press and remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression.
The 2020 celebrations were held under the theme, ‘Journalism without fear or favor.’