ZIMBABWE’S media landscape continues to deteriorate as compared to previous years amid indications that more journalists were harassed in 2016 while threats have been issued by the government to clamp down on media freedom.
BY OBEY MANAYITI
This was revealed in the State of the Media Report 2016 by the Media Institute for Southern Africa (Misa) Zimbabwe chapter released yesterday.
The report noted that government should ensure a safe working environment for the media and provide leadership within and outside government in raising awareness on the need to ensure the safety of journalists and media workers.
In the past year alone, 23 journalists were harassed while in the line of duty, Misa revealed.
“During the period under review, there was an upsurge in cases pertaining to media violations. A total of 23 journalists (refer to 2016 Media Violations Statistics Table) were unlawfully arrested or detained in 2016 compared to 10 cases recorded in 2015,” the report said.
“A total of 12 were assaulted by the police and supporters of Zanu PF while conducting their lawful professional duties of covering events such as the afore-mentioned protests and demonstrations, as they unfolded.
“In 2015, Misa-Zimbabwe recorded seven (7) assault cases. In other words, the year under review saw a shocking 130% and 71% increase in the number of journalists arrested and assaulted, respectively, while on duty,” noted the report.
Only last week, police arrested NewsDay Editor Wisdom Mdzungairi and senior reporter Richard Chidza over a story carried by the paper that made reference to President Robert Mugabe’s health. The two have since been charged under the “Mugabe insult law”.
Chidza has also been quizzed by police twice in the past half year while other Alpha Media Holdings staffers Obey Manayiti, Tafadzwa Ufumeli and Elias Mambo were among scores of media reporters who have borne the brunt of government’s heavy-handed approach in dealing with the media.
While police had indicated Mdzungairi and Chidza would appear in court this week, the State, as has become the norm, yesterday demanded to know “the source of the story”.
Misa added that while government had commendably affirmed commitments to media law reforms, more still needed to be done.
“The government thus continued to mix its commitment to reforming the media with threats to introduce harsh measures to deal with the independent media. The government’s threats against media freedom also has a chilling effect on citizens’ right to free expression and access to information online as evidenced by its plans to enact laws that will hinder online activity under the guise of preventing cybercrimes,” Misa said.
The report added that government should demonstrate its commitment to improving media space in the country by coming up with exact timelines as to when it would implement the envisaged media reforms in line with the recommendations and findings of the Information and Media Panel of Inquiry produced in 2014.
The government was also urged in the report to expend more energy on public awareness on enabling citizens to assert their fundamental rights and freedoms.