For over 30 years now, Zimbabwe media players have joined the rest of the world in celebrating World Press Freedom Day, the 3rd of May, not so much for the Zimbabwean media landscape’s sake, which, in fact is a quicksand and minefield panorama, but for the symbolism that the day represents.
The Zimbabwean media landscape has remained booby-trapped territory with a nervous dysfunctional inclusive government maintaining a deadlier stranglehold than that obtaining during the colonial era.
Media freedom has remained elusive and has not developed beyond mere tokenism.
Zimbabwe has remained a hard-hat area for media practitioners, who are persecuted and routinely arrested and incarcerated at every turn, and only freed by the kind hand of the Judiciary which has maintained a modicum of honour and sees these arrests for what they really are — mere persecution and harassment.
Other countries in the region, however, have made great strides in promoting media freedom.
Namibia, for instance, is number 23 in the top 50 countries with genuine press freedom and Mauritius is number 47.
South Africa, which attained independence barely 18 years ago, has become a media-savvy nation, zooming past Zimbabwe in terms of media freedom, with a large number of TV and radio stations as well as a deluge of print media houses.
The public broadcaster SABC is pitched against, and has to compete with private media players like MNet, E-tv, MultiChoice and others. In 2007, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) issue licences to four new TV service providers — Telkom Media, On Digital Media, E-Sat and Walk on Water TV.
This would never happen in Zimbabwe, which is only prone to licensing cronies to give a veneer of media liberalisation.
In its March 2009 South Africa media report, OMD Media Direction established that South Africa had more than 21 daily news papers, 27 major weeklies, 660 consumer magazines, 735 business-to-business publications, 470 community newspapers and magazines, 92 TV stations, 137 radio stations and over 65 DStv audio channels.
International news agencies like Bloomberg and Reuters among others, have bureaux in Johannesburg, while BBC has several correspondents. Local news services include SA Press Association and African Eye News.
The print media has such notables as Daily Sun, Mail & Guardian, City Press, Beeld among many others, whose diverse ownership is spread along such owners as Media 24, Independent News & Media, Caxton, AVUSA, CTP Group, Prime Media, M&G Media, and MultiChoice, among others, providing South Africans with a rich buffet of media choices.
Freedom of the Press is enshrined in the democratic Constitution of South Africa — one of the most progressive and democratic constitutions on earth. There is also an impartial Ombudsman who looks into media transgressions, as opposed to the Zimbabwean situation where media Grim Reapers and hangmen are forever swinging their scythes.
They come out spewing eloquent bogeyman stories and heretical theologies of the dangers of imminent recolonisation inherent in media liberalisation and them being the vanguard against such perceived decadent nonsense.
Suppression of media freedom in this 21st century is a clear deprivation of a basic human right to information, and a form of bondage and enslavement of the mind.