HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsComment: Resurgence of media clampdown must be condemned

Comment: Resurgence of media clampdown must be condemned

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Wednesday we commented on the dangers being faced by journalists in this country. There is a compelling need to stay with the same subject today because attacks on the media have resurfaced.

Yesterday, a Standard staffer was arrested, detained and charged with defaming the police.

The arrest, together with a number of recent media violations centred on forcing reporters to reveal their sources, is a grave danger to the profession. It must be frowned upon.

The attacks have poured water on all blandishments and international optimism that the media environment in the country was improving.

Towards the end of the first quarter this year international media watchdog organisations were beginning to sound optimistic about the media scene in the country.

This optimism was given impetus by the licensing of media organisations — including NewsDay — to start publishing. This, many observers believed, was the dawning of a new era in the media after years of state repression and clampdown mainly on the privately-owned media.

To illustrate this optimism, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said Zimbabwe had moved 13 places from last year’s 136th position out of 175 countries, “thanks to a partial opening up of the media space following the licensing of new private newspapers”.

“Zimbabwe has again made some slow progress, as it did last year. The return of independent dailies is a step forward for public access to information but the situation is still very fragile,” the media freedom watchdog said.

Many saw hope for the democratisation of the media with the advent of the government of national unity.

Media freedom and the opening up of the democratic space is a key facet of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) which gave birth to the unity government.

Media and Information minister Webster Shamu appeared to take up the challenge to chart a new way forward by engaging senior journalists and inviting them to come through his open door and talk.

We however viewed this thawing of media-state relations with guarded optimism because we were always worried about remnants of the old order opposed to fundamental freedoms.

We were right because journalists still work with axes hovering over their heads as demonstrated by the latest arrest.

All this is happening on the watch of the GNU where the MDC-T – self-professed proponents of media freedom – are a key facet. What does Premier Morgan Tsvangirai say about this and what can he do? – Not much, it appears.

We hope that South Africa President Jacob Zuma, the broker of the GPA is watching. We are beginning to see our rulers behaving badly again.

What is most worrying is the quest to force reporters to reveal their sources.

This would almost certainly be abused by our politicians and used to silence whistleblowers.

Reporters rely on confidential sources to get a foothold into their beats. If they can be arbitrarily required to identify all their sources, it’s likely they won’t have any.

We believe very strongly that the ability to publish confidentially-sourced information about our government’s practices and policies is at the heart of a free, open and democratic society.

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