The government has finally confirmed what we have always known; that journalism and the media are essential services, particularly when there is a crisis like the global COVID-19 pandemic.
In a statutory instrument announcing the extension of the lockdown, the government explicitly included “communications and telecommunication services, including the internet, any public or licensed broadcasting services, and the activities of persons as journalists, newspaper vendors or employees of such services”.
Prior to the publication of Statutory Instrument 93 of 2020, government spokesperson, Nick Mangwana has intimated that “the media services and the practice of journalism will be gazetted as an essential service”.
Before this, journalists had been allowed to carry on with their jobs upon the production of a Zimbabwe Media Commission accreditation card, but there were reported incidences of media personnel being harassed by the security forces.
This prompted the Media Institution of Southern Africa (Misa) Zimbabwe to approach the courts to protect the rights of journalists.
However, police Commissioner-General Godwin Matanga told the court that Statutory Instrument 83 (COVID-19 Regulations) does not classify the work of journalists as an essential service, except those from the broadcasting services and internet.
This raised fears that there could be a media blackout.
Justice Jacob Manzunzu postponed hearings into the matter to Monday, where a determination was to be made
However, today’s ruling could only be of academic interests, following the gazetting of the new Statutory Instrument.