Today, the world celebrates World Press Freedom Day. Press freedom is considered the rock on which society is established and it is critical for governments and other political establishments to help ensure a safe working environment for media personnel across the world.
The celebrations come at a time the 2017/2018 global report World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development, which examines press freedom in four of its key dimensions − media freedom, media pluralism, media independence and safety of journalists − concludes that across the world, journalism is under fire.
It is in this context, that strengthening the watchdog role of independent journalism is mandatory, so as to expose electoral violations, gender-based inequalities and human rights abuses, which undermine the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
There is no doubt that a prerequisite for independent journalism is an enabling environment, where freedom of expression, including the right to access information, as a human right, and press freedom in particular, is guaranteed by the law and protected by the judiciary.
It is unfortunate that in many countries, including Zimbabwe, journalism is being criminalised, forcing journalists to work in unfavourable environments with constant threats and harassment if their reportage is classified as “unfavourable” to the authorities or other privileged groups.
We reckon that speaking truth to power has often come with painful backlashes and it is our hope that the government will continue to work with various media groups and stakeholders to ensure a conducive operating field.
We believe a healthy and robust press will make the difference between a dictatorship and democratic society.
Clearly, as President Emmerson Mnangagwa preaches the gospel that “Zimbabwe is open for business” that should be underpinned by tangible efforts to ensure journalists are able to dispense their responsibilities without fear or favour.
It is important to note that World Press Freedom Day provides an opportunity to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists, who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
During such a time as this, the local journalism fraternity also remembers journalist and activist, Itai Dzamara, who disappeared without trace a few years ago after years of calling on former President Robert Mugabe to step down over failed governance.
Many other journalists across Africa and the world have faced a similar fate and this day provides an opportune moment to honour them and bring to memory their work.
Freedom of expression is the mother of all freedoms. While it is important to be free to think, to be free to investigate, to have an opinion, or to disagree, these are not enough – there is a greater need for freedom to publish and for people to be informed without censorship, harassment or violence. The public looks up to the media to provide them information to, among other things, help them make critical life decisions.
On this day, the government should make guarantees that will promote a strong media for a stronger democracy and stronger society!