By Mlondolozi Ndlovu
Harare, May 04, 2016 – DOZENS of journalists and media stakeholders on Tuesday gathered to celebrate World Press Freedom Day in Harare’s Highfields suburb, with calls from media experts for government to align media laws with the new constitution as well as improve working conditions for journalists.
This year’s press freedom day was celebrated under the theme “Media sustainability in the digital era”.
Speaking at the event, media experts bemoaned the non alignment of laws to the national charter as one of the reasons local journalists continuously failed to discharge their duties freely.
Loughty Dub, who is executive director of the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ), said while the constitutional court had outlawed the criminal defamation, press freedom was still in a “bad state”.
“Press freedom in Zimbabwe is in a bad state. We still have archaic laws that are being used to arrest and persecute journalists. The constitutional court judgement that criminal defamation is unlawful in Zimbabwe was a good step but more still needs to be done,” said Dube, who called for the alignment of the media laws with the constitution of Zimbabwe.
“If the laws we have are to be aligned with the constitution, it will be very progressive. We would like to advice the government to align the laws with the constitution,” said Dube.
The media self regulatory board chief noted that there was need for the government and media organisations to engage in awareness campaigns over the digitisation program.
“There should be knowledge on digitisation, where is it coming from and where is it going. The government and media institutions should thrive to promote awareness on the digitisation progress,” he said
Speaking on the sidelines of the celebrations, Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) Secretary General Foster Dongozi said the conditions of employment for journalists were deplorable.
“If we look at the position of journalists, we should not look at their payment or salaries but they conditions. The salary of journalists stinks, it is poor. It is not money that should be given to people,” he said.
Dongozi said people should not expect quality information from Zimbabwean journalists as they were writing under a very fearful environment.
“The conditions we are working in are very fearful, they are conditions of arrests and being intimidated. If one works in conditions of fear, they won’t work properly. They won’t produce quality information,” he added.
“We urge the government of Zimbabwe to align the laws of the country which cause the arrest of journalists. We advise him that since we have the constitution, we should work on media rights.”
Commenting on the gains of the media in Zimbabwe, Nhlanhla Ngwenya, the Media Institute of Zimbabwe (MISA) Director said as an organisation, they were sceptical about the gains made so far in the country.
“The government has said that it wants to look into AIPPA and Broadcasting Services Act and also put a law which will regulate the TV sector to operate freely. The laws that they want to repeal have not been consulted. We have reservations on why they have chosen two laws when we have many laws hindering the operations of the media in the country,” he said.
He also bemoaned the failure to broadcast by six of the eight licensed commercial radio stations which were licensed last year.
“What we can say is that we have many reservations on the state of the media. The government has tried to issue licenses to commercial radio stations, 8 radios have received these, however of the eight, only 2 are now broadcasting,” added Ngwenya.
The press freedom day celebrations were attended by media practitioners, government officials and members of the public.