THE 60-member Sadc Parliamentary Forum observer mission in the country for the July 31 harmonised elections was on Saturday told that Zimbabwean journalists feared they will be targeted during the polls because of lack of media reforms guaranteeing their security.
Sadc Parliamentary Forum members, who arrived in the country last week on Wednesday, met representatives from the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Zimbabwe Chapter, the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ), the Zimbabwe Media Commission and the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe.
The regional grouping sought to hear the views of the country’s media regarding the coverage of the polls.
ZUJ secretary-general Foster Dongozi said the biggest concern was the safety and protection of journalists as they covered the polls unilaterally proclaimed by President Robert Mugabe without requisite reforms in the media.
Dongozi said journalists feared covering the polls in the wake of the criminalisation of the profession by State security agents who had no qualms in arresting reporters in the line of duty.
“We have seen a huge increase in the arrest of journalists, including severe beating, in recent weeks,” Dongozi said.
“Such actions have a huge bearing on how the media will cover these elections.”
Misa director Nhlanhla Ngwenya told the mission that recent incidents of assault and harassment of journalists by Zanu PF and MDC-T pointed to a volatile working environment for the media.
“This is evidenced by the increase in the number of cases involving the assault and harassment of journalists in the wake of the proclamation of July 31 as the date for Zimbabwe’s general elections,” he said. “For example, six months into the year, 2013 has already recorded 58% of cases recorded in 2011 alone, a year that was generally characterised by political calmness.”
Ngwenya said Sadc should insist that the government of Zimbabwe guarantees that journalists covering the elections would be allowed to conduct their duties without hindrance.
On June 14, a Chinhoyi-based journalist, Paul Pindani, was abducted from his home, severely assaulted and left for dead by unknown assailants who were wearing masks.
Other cases involve the assault of Zimbabwe Independent reporter Herbert Moyo and the harassment and detention of Mashudu Netsiada, a senior reporter with the Chronicle, by MDC-T supporters and security personnel.