A muzzled media can’t effectively discharge its duties


WHILE the media plays a pivotal role in ensuring the holding of free and fair elections, the profession has been rendered too risky and life-threatening especially for scribes from the private-owned stables.

In Zimbabwe, the run-up to elections has often been characterised by violence and journalists are often caught in the cross-fire as they do their job.

When it comes to the actual elections, the environment hots up and the harassment and abuse of journalists escalates.

Cases of physical harm, harassment and wanton arrest of journalists are well documented, but sadly perpetrators, who are often ruling party honchos and State security agents, have not been held accountable.

This has not only interfered with reportage but has also tainted the country’s electoral system.

Global media watchdogs have often cited this as a ploy by dictators to hinder the free flow of information and bar journalists who expose electoral malpractices.

With Zimbabwe set to hold parliamentary and council by-elections on March 26 and general elections sometime next year, these two key national events evoke a sense of insecurity among journalists as they often find themselves in harm’s way as they seek to foster transparence in the electoral processes.

Misa Zimbabwe this week raised alarm once more about the safety of media practitioners who, besides being very important pillars of democracy, feel inadequately protected to carry out their duties.

The representative group has always subscribed to the notion that ‘“elections define democracy while the media enlighten and sustain it”.

Often the media’s role of informing the public is curtailed and this results in distorted reportage which is devoid of the key elements of the elections.

Voters expect the media to factually inform them on the various stages of the electoral process, including dissecting the parties’ manifestos and candidates’ profiles.

This requires journalists to deliver as fairly as possible. This is a huge responsibility which requires a conducive working environment.

We call for concerted efforts on the part of both the government, civil society and the public to ensure that media practitioners are allowed to carry out their duties unhindered.

We implore State security agents and foul-mouthed politicians across the political divide to accord members of the Fourth Estate adequate space to cover the elections objectively. Intimidating journalists doesn’t bode well for a country which is not at war, and fighting so hard not to be labelled a pariah State.

The credibility of the elections in the global lenses will depend on fair and peaceful coverage of the process by the media.

Media practitioners on the other hand have a part to play in weaving the tapestry of democracy by conducting themselves  ethically and professionally.