The Constitutional Court on Wednesday hammered in the final nail in criminal defamation’s coffin, which has been aptly described as a dead law.
While the journalism fraternity celebrates the striking-off of that law, a bane of Zimbabwean media, we strongly caution that this is not a time for triumphalism, but rather a time to prepare for an onslaught from all directions from the authorities.
The government has so far been very antipathetic to free media, preferring a pliant State media, which it has under its control and instead of licking its wounds following the court setback, rest assured the authorities will come with new ways to stifle media freedom.
Previously, the government was quite adept at using criminal defamation to keep journalists on the leash, but after the law faced numerous challenges at the Constitutional Court, the modus operandi changed and now the State prefers to charge media practitioners with publishing falsehoods.
Already journalists from NewsDay and The Sunday Mail have been caught in this dragnet and there is a real danger of more arrests looming.
Information ministry permanent secretary George Charamba has already issued several warnings against journalists and it would be folly for the media fraternity to think those were empty threats.
Inspite of constitutional provisions protecting journalists from revealing sources, Charamba had the audacity to point out that media practitioners could be locked up at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison, while authorities sought who would have passed information to them.
This is the clearest illustration that authorities will stop at nothing to ensure they keep the media on a tight leash and the constitutional provisions protecting journalists are viewed, by some, as nothing, but an irritating inconvenience.
Thus, this is a time for introspection rather than celebration by journalists, as the government seems loath to free speech and freedom of the media.
Journalists from both the private and public media should be on their toes, although bizarrely, State media reporters seem to have a notion they are immune to government excesses and expend so much of their time hurling insults at their private media colleagues.
The arrest of Sunday Mail journalists should have set off the alarm bells and warned them that no one is safe, but alas, some of them pretend they live in a parallel world, where there is a different set of rules for themselves and for others.
Our hope is that the striking-off of criminal defamation should be a rallying call for media on both sides of the divide to unite and fight laws they feel are unjust and curtail their operations.
The new Constitution has given us an opportunity we never thought existed before and slowly but surely, the media and ordinary people are winning legal battles they would have coiled away from just three short years ago.
The striking-off of criminal defamation should remind Zimbabweans in the quest for justice and freedom that history is on their side and, as former South African President Thabo Mbeki put it, they should not despair because today the weather is bad.
A better tomorrow lies ahead.