Journalists are walking on a political minefield

Church members in Mbare on Sunday joined sycophants of known intolerant political parties in Zimbabwe in harassing and attacking journalists who dare criticise the status quo and defend freedom of association and expression.

In a blatant attack on our colleagues in the state media, church youths affiliated to Mbare Church of Central Africa Presbyterian pounced on two reporters from H-Metro when they stumbled upon an incident where a reverend was being beaten up by one of his followers for allegedly destroying his home.

Only late Tuesday afternoon police in Bulawayo quizzed our bureau chief Dumisani Sibanda over a story published in the last edition of the Standard.

In the just-ended controversial constitution-making process which was marred by violence, Zanu PF zealots called for the execution of scribes and cartoonists whose works, they claim, sought to portray President Robert Mugabe in bad light.

Information minister Webster Shamu, who is supposed to protect the media and see to it that information space is expanded, seemed reluctant to condemn the threats; suggesting that journalists should be severely punished.

Lest we forget, he said: “. . . People are free to express their views,” in apparent reference to statements that journalists should be hanged.

What an absurd suggestion. Shamu forgets that he was once a journalist and is well aware of the consequences of such statements.

Ahead and during the chaotic process, between January 2010, to date, Media Institute of Southern Africa recorded at least 12 cases of arrest and harassment of journalists during the course of duty.

In Gambia, during the reign of President Yahya Jammeh, local journalists were restricted, harassed and some tortured.

Foreign journalists were forced out of the country while some elements in the government did everything to kill the private media.

Does this ring a bell?

It goes without saying that the media environment in Zimbabwe remains neither democratic nor free.

The work journalists do is not guaranteed to be safe by law or by way of a democratic political culture.

In fact, and tragically so, the media functions at the whim of politicians, youth militias, the Zimbabwe Republic Police, the army and central intelligence operatives who, as and when they deem fit, decide on whether to arrest, harass, beat up or torture a journalist.

This essentially means whereas people and institutions have been arguing that there is an improvement of the functional environment for journalists in Zimbabwe, the truth of the matter is that this is neither guaranteed to continue, warts and all, because once the institutions and individuals cited above feel their interests are violated, they unilaterally act against the media and in most instances with traumatic consequences.

Within the context of elections, it is more likely that this sort of attitude and extrajudicial targeting of journalists will increase, and the environment will become untenable for journalists across the country.

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