ZRP must spruce its access to information policy-media

By Nhau Mangirazi

CHINHOYI– Journalists from Mashonaland West raised concern over how Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) has denied access on the right to information while on duty to write stories local stories.

They charged that at times, they have been denied information on time affecting their deadlines as they are forced to phone the national public relations desk under Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi.

Some allege that few years ago, they used to get official comments from Officers Commanding Districts, Dispol but this has since changed affecting how they want to write stories with official police comments.

‘This has not been the case of late as we are being told to seek comments from Assistant Commissioner Nyathi. We works under deadlines as we will be working against time,’ said one freelancer.

However, Eugene Muchetu (editor of The Telegraph under New Ziana) stable of community newspapers said the challenge was the same at every institution when dealing with junior officers deployed at district or province.

She said, ‘‘The media face the same challenges from both public and private institutions as they don’t give value to their officers at district or province level. We call upon all institutions to afford us comments when we need them as a matter of urgency. News is about time,’

The journalists were giving feedback during the launch of Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA Regional) transparency index.

Environmental Management Agency (EMA) was rated as the most open institution in Zimbabwe by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA Zimbabwe)’s 2020 Transparency Assessment survey.

The survey noted that EMA was active on social media and maintaining a “partially” up to date website.

‘Although the institution was unable to provide information that had been requested, they explained their reasons,’ the survey noted.

Chitungwiza Municipality got the secrecy key as it did not respond to the requests for information.

A senior official stated that they did not receive the request and recommended that the requests be resubmitted through email.

Among the organizations that were in the survey were Chipinge Rural District Council, Forestry Commission of Zimbabwe, Ministry of Health and Child Care, Ministry of Mines and Mining Development, Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, Ministry of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development, Mutare City Council and Zimbabwe School Examinations Council were among other organizations surveyed.

However, ZRP national spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Nyathi denied that the police ‘gagged provincial spokespersons on issues as requested by the media,’

Speaking in a telephone interview, Nyathi said, ‘As ZRP public relations, we are ready to give media information as we get the facts. Personally, I have never denied provincial spokespersons to comment and we need to work closely with the media so that we give the correct information as when it is needed,’

Mashonaland West provincial   police spokesperson Inspector Ian Kohwera ‘clarified’ that his office had done the best and was prepared for a ‘truce’ with local media to get access to information.

Kohwera said, ‘If there are individuals that feel we denied them access to information on what they requested professionally, we are ready to engage each other so that the public is not denied the right to access the information. We are ready for a truce with the media over this,’

Ironically, ZRP was not among the organizations surveyed during the latest results released recently.       

It was once rated on three occasions.

The researches were started in 2009 aimed at establishing difficulties that Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) citizens face to access public information.

It comes against the background of forthcoming commemorations for the International Day for Universal Access to Information which is marked every year on 28 September.

It also based on the findings of assessments on whether public institutions proactively make relevant information available online in the form of websites or social media accounts.

The survey assesses to what degree information is made obtainable to citizens upon request.

It was noted that that the culture and practice of acknowledging receipt of information requests, as opposed to providing the information sought, is still a challenge in some organizations.

‘‘Targeted institutions do not always notify the requester when they receive the information request letter, but only acknowledge receipt upon physical follow-up visits to their offices,’ noted the survey report.

MISA Zimbabwe encourages organizations to effectively use online platforms to disseminate information to the public while the new law on access to information, the Freedom of Information Act, should be continuously evaluated to ensure it gives effect to Sections 61 and 62 of the Constitution that provide for freedom of expression, media freedom and citizens’ right to access to information.

Regionally, studies were conducted in Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania and Zambia.