Editorial Comment: Press freedom a vital cog in civil liberties

The media is a vital cog in the security of civil liberties, which is why we are the fourth estate after the legislature, judiciary and executive arms of the state.

As the world marks press freedom day, celebrated every year on May 3, it is important to reflect on the state of the media in Zimbabwe and to look back at the path traversed and the outlook of the road ahead.

This year the event is running under the theme; A Press for the Planet: Journalism in the Face of the Environmental Crisis and so, the idea will be to position the media to amplify the environment story and get journalism to take a key role in the fight against climate change.

It is, therefore, of paramount importance that Zimbabwean journalists open their eyes and report the rampant environmental destruction happening across the country in the extractive sector and also the life threatening decimation of wetlands around cities and towns.

It is the duty of the media to find and expose all environmental criminals if we are to save the country and continent for the sake of future generations whose rights to life are under threat from nefarious activities of their selfish and greedy forbearers.

The media is a vital cog in the security of civil liberties, which is why we are the fourth estate after the legislature, judiciary and executive arms of the state.

It is sad then that this critical arm of the state must spend most of its time and energy fighting to be allowed to work freely.

Over the years, Zimbabwe has faced numerous challenges in terms of press freedom and it is crucial for us to recognise the progress made so far, while acknowledging the work that still needs to be done and the retrogressive steps taken by the government.

In recent years, Zimbabwe has made some positive strides towards promoting press freedom. In 2020, the government amended media laws, including repealing the draconian Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa) and the enactment of the Freedom of Information Act.

These changes were celebrated by the media, butwhile we welcomed the positive developments, the state turned around and started putting in place retrogressive measures in enjoyment of social, economic and political rights through the enactment of laws like the Private Voluntary Organisations Amendment Bill and negative amendment of the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act.

On the night of May 31 2023, Zanu PF, the party that has ruled Zimbabwe since independence, used its parliamentary majority to get the draconian Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Amendment Bill, or Patriot Bill for short – passed.

President Mnangagwa has since appended his signature to the Bill, making it one of the most draconian pieces of legislation in this country.

Clause 2 of this loosely worded law provides for a death sentence or life imprisonment for anyone “wilfully injuring the sovereignty and national interest of Zimbabwe”

This law, among others such as the Data Protection Act of 2021 will seriously restrict journalists from doing their duties.

As we celebrate World Press Freedom Day, it is crucial for the Zimbabwean government to take concrete steps towards promoting and protecting press freedom.

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