By Vivienne Marara
As Zimbabwe celebrates its 40th anniversary as an independent and sovereign country, the nation takes time to remember all political players, women, men, and children who sacrificed their lives to liberate Zimbabwe. It was their selflessness which culminated in an independent Zimbabwe on the 18th of April in 1980.
As we commemorate Zimbabwe’s 40th Independence, we should also take time to celebrate the role played by the media during the liberation struggle and in post-independence Zimbabwe. In the same breath, we should also reflect on the journey traveled in the quest for an independent and free media in Zimbabwe. This year’s Independence Day commemorations come at a time that the world is battling with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Similar to the days of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle, media remains a strategic tool for information dissemination on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sadly, Zimbabwe’s 40th Independence celebrations come at a time that the media is before the High Court seeking an order barring police officers responsible for enforcing the COVID-19 lockdown conditions from interfering with the work of journalists using 2019 press cards. This is despite the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) having issued a press statement on 30 March 2020 advising all stakeholders to accept and recognize Journalists using 2019 accreditation cards. Following the gazetting of 2020 accreditation fees on 27 March 2020 and the subsequent lockdown declared on 30 March 2020, ZMC was then forced to indefinitely suspend issuance of 2020 accreditation cards, a situation which is not in anyway a fault on the part of the Journalists.
The current onslaught on the media is reminiscent of the rampant media violations which occurred at the height of the infamous Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) which was extensively used to curtail media freedom at the turn of the century and subsequent years. To date, AIPPA remains the most notorious piece of legislation used to limit the enjoyment of media freedom in post-independence Zimbabwe.
Despite the existence of Constitutional guarantees on the right of access to information and media freedom, more still needs to be done so as to guarantee the safety and security of Journalists in Zimbabwe.Chief amongst this being institutional reform by all arms of the state. It is unfortunate that at a time that the media should be playing a critical information dissemination role on COVID-19, it is instead seeking the protection of the courts in order to carry out its professional duties. Such a development is to an extent a reflection of the state of our democracy, four decades after independence, which is characterized by limits on the enjoyment of some of the fundamental freedoms. The state, through its different arms, is there to offer protection for the enjoyment of fundamental freedoms and the respect for human dignity including that of Journalists.
At a time that nations are besieged by rampant fake news being peddled mainly through social media platforms, traditional media remains a critical go-to platform for access to verified and credible information. This therefore necessitates the need for journalists to be at the forefront of information gathering and distribution which enables citizen awareness on COVID-19.
Apart from physical protection of the media, there is need for media owners to also ensure the media’s economic independence. Resultantly, media owners should safeguard the welfare of Journalists through awarding competitive employment packages including medical aid and pension amongst other benefits. This will go a long way in ensuring that the media independently plays its fourth estate role without fear or favor.
The media is and remains an essential service hence the existence of Constitutional guarantees on media freedom and access to information. Therefore, the safety and security of the media must be guaranteed at all times and by all arms of the state, the police included.
Happy 40th Independence Anniversary Zimbabwe!
Vivienne Marara is a Communication for Development Practitioner and writes in her personal capacity. She can be reached on email@example.com.