Investigative journalists urged to use Freedom of Information Act effectively

By Nhau Mangirazi

Zimbabwean journalists must strive to use the Freedom of Information Act effectively to expose any suspected abuse of power and corruption around Foreign Investments in the country as part of promoting public sector accountability.

Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) fundraising and regional campaigns coordinator Nqaba Matshazi told investigative journalists that they stand a good chance in exposing abuse of public funds through the Freedom of Information Act if they used diligently.

He was speaking during the training of investigative journalists at a recent workshop organised by Information for Development Trust (IDT) as part of its Accountability Files programme, which in this case focused on foreign investments in Zimbabwe and Southern Africa. 

‘‘There is Freedom of Information Act and it’s a good start for us as journalists. Let us use it to our advantage and give balanced, researched, and well-informed stories from mostly outlying rural communities that do not have a voice of their own. Let us make use of the legislation for the public good, transparency, and accountability. If we put pressure on the government, public and private institutions to avail information, it will certainly make a difference.

“If you go to Government and ask them about the foreign investment they are obliged to give you the information. If denied the right to the information you can appeal through courts. This is the golden moment for Zimbabwean investigative journalists to shine and expose suspected abuse of public funds. It starts with small things but will help for accountability purposes,’’ said Matshazi.

He however complained that the Zimbabwean media was polarised.

 ‘‘As Zimbabweans, we are polarised, be it our football, politics, and our dreams as a nation. If you put two Zimbabweans in a camp you get three factions because we don’t agree on anything. This has seen the investigation of Foreign Investment and Accountability is difficult to report on. We don’t have a value system. Investigations must use the Freedom of Information Act. Journalism is about the people their wishes fulfilled, denied, or celebrated. In the mining sector, why are the Chinese giving out substandard products as well as abusing the environment, labor laws with impunity? These are questions you need to ask as you pursue your investigation,’’ he added.

Matshazi said the Freedom of Information Act is worth celebrating.

‘‘This is our opportunity lets us take advantage of the act as it has liberated media,’’
He suggested that investigative news can start on developmental stories that are less cost-effective but with an impact on societies and communities.

In his opening remarks on the first day of the workshop, Jason Roberts, the Acting Public Affairs Officer at the US Embassy in Harare, also underscored the importance of media freedom.

  “The U.S. Embassy is proud to support this seminar on investigative journalism because we believe that media freedom is vital to a thriving democracy.” said Roberts 

He encouraged the independent media to report on positive gains Zimbabwe has made, alongside the challenges. Freedom of Information Act was enacted last year and helps in giving effect to the right of access to information in accordance with the constitution.

It has opened avenues for establishing voluntary and mandatory mechanisms or procedures to give effect to the right of access to information so as to facilitate swift, inexpensive and simple access to information as well as promoting transparency, accountability, and effective governance by taking any steps necessary to educate or inform the public of their rights in terms of this Act and ensuring that appropriate assistance is afforded to members of the public seeking to exercise their right of access to information in order to facilitate the exercise of the right.Access to Information’s duty is to create, keep, organise and maintain information.