By Professor Matodzi
Windhoek, July 23, 2013 – A regional media freedom watchdog has raised concern over Zimbabwe’s half-hearted implementation of media reforms, which has left journalists exposed to attacks ahead of watershed elections scheduled for next Wednesday.
The Windhoek headquartered Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) expressed concern over the government’s lackadaisical approach to effecting significant democratic and media reforms agreed to in the Global Political Agreement (GPA) signed by President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in 2008.
Critical media reforms together with several key changes on security and legislative structures-promised under the power sharing agreement deal of September 2008 are some of the reforms yet to be implemented. Zimbabwe has also lagged behind the region in developing plurality in the media.
In a statement issued Tuesday during its regional governing council’s annual general meeting in Zambia, MISA said it is concerned about the safety and security of journalists in Zimbabwe, lack of access to information by citizens and abuse of public media resources.
“All this is of concern to us because the necessary media legislative reforms required to align the existing laws with the new Constitution have not yet taken place. MISA has previously stated the urgency of these reforms, noting that they are of significant importance ahead of the poll. The failure to critically address and reform existing laws such as the Access to Information and Privacy Protection Act (AIPPA), Public Order and Security Act (POSA), Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, Broadcasting Services Act (BSA), Zimbabwe Broadcasting Act, Censorship and Entertainment Controls Act, Interception of Communications Act and the Official Secrets Act, is an unfortunate drawback that might have serious repercussions on how the forthcoming elections are conducted,” reads part of the MISA statement entitled “Safety of journalists and access to information a pre-requisite in ensuring credible, free and fair elections in Zimbabwe.”
MISA said although it is greatly encouraged by the explicit provisions in Zimbabwe’s new Constitution, which for the first time in the country’s history, guarantee media freedom and citizens’ right to access information, Zimbabwe had missed an opportunity to make obnoxious media laws conform with the new Constitution and also, other regional and international instruments that the country is signatory to.
These instruments include the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, Banjul Declaration on the Principles of Freedom of Expression in Africa, Southern Africa Protocol on Sport, Culture and Information and the African Charter on Broadcasting.
The regional media advocacy and training body encouraged journalists to strictly adhere to their codes of ethics and to observe the highest standards in reporting the elections by showing a commitment to professionalism, credibility and integrity.
The police, MISA said, should firmly deal with the wanton acts of lawlessness such as assault of journalists while executing their professional duties.
In June about five journalists were attacked by MDC-T supporters together with some Zanu PF supporters during the course of their normal duties while newspapers were confiscated from vendors by followers loyal to President Robert Mugabe.
The media freedom watchdog also called on political leaders to guard against making inflammatory statements that incite and excite their supporters to take the law into their own hands against journalists.