2019 Media Stakeholders Indaba: MAZ notches up pressure on free media in Zimbabwe

By Tafadzwa Muranganwa

A LOCAL  media advocacy group, Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ) is piling the pressure on the ‘new dispensation’ government led by President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa to implement genuine media reforms as it gears up to hold its annual media stakeholders conference on Thursday in Harare.

In a statement, MAZ  programmes officer Nigel Nyamutumbu  said the conference, whose theme is  “Strengthening citizen voices in a free and sustainable media” will be an opportunity for key stakeholders in the media to ‘maintain the momentum’ in quest for media reforms.

“The 2019 media stakeholders’ conference presents an opportunity to revisit some of these critical developments and draw lessons for media stakeholders to set the agenda towards a free media in Zimbabwe.It is also an opportunity to mobilize citizens and the media fraternity in influencing the policy agenda and maintaining momentum in reforming the country’s media sector,” said Nyamutumbu.

Though acknowledging efforts being done by the government in crafting new laws, MAZ, a network of nine media support and professional organisations, says media stakeholders are still sceptical that these would guarantee total media freedoms.

“The 2019 media stakeholders conference comes at an opportune time in which the Zimbabwean government has proposed laws that seek to replace the restrictive Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and is in the process of making changes to the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA). The Freedom of Information Bill as well as the Zimbabwe Media Commission Bill and the Protection of Personal Information or Data Security Bill will all be debated in this legislative year.

“Media stakeholders have thus cast doubts on the sincerity of government to genuinely reform the problematic provisions and create an enabling environment for citizens to enjoy their constitutionally guaranteed rights,” added the MAZ manager.

The recent announcement of  new boards for the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) and the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) is a welcome development but MAZ wants to see the genuine transformation of the state broadcaster to being a truly public broadcaster and the long-awaited licensing of community radio stations

“Other notable developments within the sector have been the appointment of new boards for the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) and the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), which present an opportunity to influence the transformation of the broadcasting sector by ensuring that these appointed Boards act independently and in non-partisan manner.” explained Nyamutumbu

It is therefore appropriate that the acting CEO of ZBC, Engineer Wisdom  Hombarume will address this concern in his presentation on a democratic regulatory framework enabling public service media as his entity is generally viewed and labelled as ‘partisan’ and  ‘state-controlled’

“Media stakeholders are eagerly waiting for BAZ to call for licences of community radio stations and hope that this process is transparent and fair, ” says MAZ

With regards to harassment of journalists, MAZ says the conference should accord time to interrogate cases of sexual abuse in the newsrooms which has become rampant according to some comprehensive studies conducted by Gender and Media Connect (GMC)

“The safety and security of journalists and media practitioners remain under the spotlight and there has been a worrying trend of violations against the media with impunity. While there have been engagements between the media and the country’s security forces, reports of police brutality against the media continue to be recorded.

“ In deliberating the safety and security of practitioners, it will be critical to examine the scourge of sexual harassment within the media sector,” stressed Nyamutumbu

Sustainability of the media industry will be another critical topic that  will be reflected on to stimulate media policy dialogues.  This comes in the backdrop of most Zimbabwe media houses struggling to survive and meet their obligations such as paying decent salaries and providing better conditions of work while others have closed down completely. Donor support has largely dwindled due to fatigue and lack of positive impact while advertising revenue has declined due to the struggling economy in which most industries have closed down.

Besides the information ministry permanent secretary Nick Mangwana and the keynote speaker, chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Information on  media and broadcasting services Honourable Prince Dubeko Sibanda, the conference will be graced by various media stakeholders and prominent speakers including the chairperson of  Media Owners Association of Zimbabwe Pikirayi Deketeke who is also group chief executive officer of Zimpapers, Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) boss Dr Tafataona Mahoso, Roselyn Hanzi of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and Thembisa Fakude from Al Jazeera Centre for Studies among others.

Zimpapers Television Network (ZTN) will live stream the conference deliberations whose hashtag will be #media freedom.