Sadc leaders must respect journalists: Maunganidze

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Golden Maunganidze

MEDIA Institute of Southern Africa (Misa)-Zimbabwe chapter chairperson Golden Maunganidze (GM) was last week elected Misa regional chairperson. His appointment comes at a time the media umbrella organisation will now be housed in Harare.

Maunganidze told NewsDay (ND) senior reporter Moses Matenga that he will strive to ensure that journalists in the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) region work in a free environment. 

ND: Congratulations on your new role as the regional chairperson. What are your immediate goals?

GM: Thank you very much. Like I told my fellow colleagues from our different chapters in southern Africa, it is not business as usual in our approach. We are talking about all hands on deck as we try to promote media freedom, freedom of expression, access to information, diversity in media and regulatory frameworks in the region.

We assume this role at a critical moment where media organisations throughout the world, southern Africa included are under stress due to many challenges.

We have the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic being one of the key challenges, but our immediate task is to make sure we organise chapters and ensure they are well co-ordinated and come together in terms of approaching all we would want to achieve.

Chapters have been working in silos, but all that will change. We need that connection and communication. We need to work on improving visibility of our work as a bloc.

Injure one injure all and we want to remind governments in southern Africa that gone are the days when media practitioners were harassed and abused at a time when they will be doing their work.

We want to see people in the industry work freely without any challenge.

Another issue is to revive weaker chapters in South Africa, Angola, Eswatini, Lesotho and Botswana. We are already working to capacitate them. We want to see strong chapters that champion Misa work.

ND: What do you make of the media environment in the region at the moment and what do you think should be done to ensure media freedom and plurality?

GM: Countries are at different levels in terms of media environment. We have countries such as South Africa and Namibia who may be talking of sustainability of the media, but in terms of harassment, they may be a little on the minimum side as compared to Tanzania and Eswatini where we have journalists fleeing and seeking refuge in other countries.

When we look at Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Tanzania, we see governments with an appetite to close online space where they come up with laws and hide behind the need to regulate and stop the spread of fake news.

If you go to Zambia, you find a clear case of plurality without diversity. We have over 200 radio stations in Zambia, but they are speaking the same message.

There are people who literally storm radio stations and cut-off presenters as they are talking. Such situations are not desirable in the modern-day.

We want to change the narrative and conscientise authorities to appreciate the need for a plural, diverse media environment where journalists play their traditional roles of educating and informing all for development sake.

ND: How do you rate Zimbabwe in terms of media freedom and plurality compared to other countries in the region?

GM: I would say there is not much difference. We have a government that is ready to engage the media, but we have cases of worrying situations where police continue to harass journalists in the course of their duties. That must stop. It has always taken us back and we want to be progressive. We have had commendable steps in terms of disbanding the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa) and other draconian laws that we have been castigating for decades.

Coming up with new Bills, new Acts — yes — it is commendable, but here and there we encounter situations of journalists being arrested. But Zimbabwe is not the worst. I have talked about journalists fleeing Eswatini and others missing in Mozambique.

We would like a situation where there is freedom and people are able to work without being harassed or tortured by State agents or other persons with such appetite. We want Zimbabwe to be an example of a nation that respects the media.

ND: What is the significance of the Misa regional secretariat being housed in Harare?

GM:  This is a very defining moment of our times. When we were looking at who could house this very organisation called Misa which has done a lot across the region, it was unanimously agreed by governors and national directors that Zimbabwe has done a lot in terms of visibility and communication. So they saw the capacity for our national secretariat in terms of managing the affairs of the region.

As a country, we are now more visible and this should be known even by our government that we are in the spotlight and whichever action with us housing the Misa office, everyone is watching. I promise that with the secretariat in Harare, we will go a gear up in our operations. I can say we were selected because we showed the capacity that we have.

I also want to say thumbs up to our local national governing council that has done a lot in promoting Misa work which has attracted other chapters in the region. They trusted that Misa will be in safer hands if it is run from Harare. We are now working from one place and you will see a vibrant organisation going foward.

ND: We have seen the arrests and harassment of journalists in Zimbabwe under the new dispensation, what is your word as Misa to President Emmerson Mnangagwa and the authorities?

GM: We want to state categorically that arrests, harassment, intimidation and abuse of media practitioners has no room in this era whether in Harare, Maputo, Maseru, Lusaka or any other country, that is not tolerated. We want to urge governments in the region to respect journalists as they do their work.

Less than a week into this office, we have already dispatched a letter to Mauritius to warn the government against continued harassment of journalists by coming up with laws that affect the operations of the media.

We have written to the King of Eswatini telling him that it is not good for his and the nation’s reputation to chase away and harass journalists. We will not sit and watch as journalists are being harassed. We will not allow journalists to be abused here or anywhere in the world. That era is gone and it is not business unusual in the Misa region.

It is now time for our governments, key stakeholders and everyone else who cares to listen, to know that times have changed and it is time to wake up to a new normal where journalists are respected and given their honour in the region.

This is a promise and you will be the witness that we now have a transformed a vibrant Misa in the region.

  •  Follow Moses on Twitter Moses @mmatenga