Outrage Over Draconian Journalist Accreditation Process

By Professor Matodzi

 

HARARE, 06 January, 2016 – Zimbabwean authorities have angered media practitioners and media freedom campaigners after imposing a rigorous accreditation process to cover proceedings in Parliament. 

Officials at Parliament on Wednesday announced a litany of new requirements that media practitioners must satisfy before securing accreditation to cover proceedings in the legislative body.

In a notification delivered to journalists via email on Wednesday, Tanyaradzwa Manyemba, Parliament’s Principal Public Relations Officer disclosed that journalists who intend to cover proceedings in the legislative body must first furnish authorities with clearance letters obtained from the Zimbabwe Republic Police among a litany of requirements they need to fulfill.

Other requirements for accreditation include submitting a supporting letter from a media house, national identity cards, pictures and an accreditation card issued by the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) which is constitutional body empowered with issuing of accreditation cards to journalists.

On Wednesday, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa-Zimbabwe) slammed the move by Parliament authorities as unreasonable aimed at stifling access to information.

The Kumbirai Mafunda-chaired body described the new accreditation requirements as draconian, unreasonable and unjustifiable in a democratic society which have the effect of limiting access to information and free flow of information that empowers citizens to hold public officials to account.

“These requirements are not only unnecessarily bureaucratic and cumbersome, but undermine the powers of the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC), the constitutional body which is empowered with issuing of accreditation cards to journalists. The ZMC accreditation card is issued to facilitate the entry and coverage by journalists of public institutions and events including the Parliament of Zimbabwe,” Misa-Zimbabwe said in a statement issued Wednesday.

The media lobby and advocacy body said by subjecting journalists duly accredited by the ZMC to further vetting, Parliament runs the risk of usurping the powers of a constitutional body that could set precedence for other arms of the state to impose similar requirements on journalists.

“Parliament should take the lead in defending and promoting unhindered access to information by the media as provided for in terms of the constitutional provisions on media freedom and the right to access to information. More-so as it is a public institution whose business and conduct is of public interest and should thus be subject to public scrutiny,” said Misa-Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe Union of Journalists Secretary-General Foster Dongozi told Radio VOP that the new requirements are totally unacceptable.

It’s a continuation of the harassment regime that journalist have endured in Zimbabwe,” Dongozi said.

He urged Parliament to discard the new requirements.

“We call on Parliament to start the year by doing things that do not raise unnecessary questions and tensions,” said Dongozi.

This is the second time in less than one year that officials at Parliament have attempted to interfere with the execution of duty by journalists.

In February last year, some overzealous  security officials ordered journalists to switch off their mobile phones and cameras during a parliamentary session that ironically was being broadcast live on the state-run television.

This forced journalists to protest against the interference and also prompted Jacob Mudenda, the Speaker of Parliament to convene a meeting with aggrieved journalists drawn from both the private and public media, where they expressed their grievances.

Mudenda, a ZANU PF politburo member, later delivered a ruling in Parliament allowing journalists to use their mobile phones while in Parliament’s media gallery and indicated that barring media practitioners from doing so was an infringement of the journalists’ constitutional right to access to information.

Mudenda urged Parliament to take note of technological advancements which now make it possible for “journalists to file their stories from wherever there is internet connectivity.”

Regional and international media bodies among them the Paris-based press watchdog Reporters Without Borders have classified President Robert Mugabe as a media “predator”  whose administration has presided over the harassment, arrest, prosecution and the disappearance of journalists such as Itai Dzamara, who has been missing since he was disappeared in March last year.