The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)-Zimbabwe Chapter- National Director director Tabani Moyo has petitioned government to exercise its authority on law enforcement agents who deter journalists from executing their obligations during the COVID-19 national lockdown.
To date the Ministry of Health and Child Care has recorded 11 confirmed cases and two deaths.
In the past week since the lockdown began some journalists and newspaper vendors have either been assaulted or arrested or both by the police during the course of carrying out their duties.Kudzanai Musengi in Gweru, Nunurai Jena in Chinhoyi, Matthew Takaona,Panashe Makufa in Harare and Tatenda Julius a student Journalist in Mutare expected for the student were arrested in possession of the media accreditation card.
Assault and arrest of journalists is a common phenomenon that has raised eyebrows around the infringement of media freedoms enshrined in the constitution. Reports of journalists being arrested during protests are prevalent in Zimbabwe but arrests while working during pandemic is a first.
Moyo rebuked the heavy-handedness of the police towards media practitioners as they carrying out their news gathering role.
“We call upon the government to take bold actions towards reigning in the police, so that journalists during this COVID-19 pandemic perform a front line role of keeping the nation informed and then the people of Zimbabwe can make informed decisions which are life serving.”
“Journalists in Zimbabwe are entitled to further their career and work related duties as defined by section 61 of the constitution without hindrance from the state or any other grouping within country.”
The Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) has not accredited any local or foreign journalist this year owing to the delay of setting accreditation fees, despite the circumstances journalist were arrested for using expired media cards to cover the lockdown.
“What we have seen here is a deliberately convenient disjointed approach by the police, the ZMC, the ministry of Information.”
“When the ZMC has not accredited anyone for 2020 because the regulation only came when we were already on a lock down but the police on the other hand insist that they want to see journalists using 2020 accreditation cards,” Moyo said.
Moyo added that the unlawful detentions, assault and harassment of journalists by the arm of the law that is supposed to protect the citizens of Zimbabwe but in this case it is the one in the front and abusing journalists.
The MISA 2019 State of the Media reports an upsurge of media violations in 2018 with an issuance of 32 Alerts as compared to 11 in 2017.
MISA Zimbabwe is one of 11 chapters of the Media Institute of Southern Africa, which promotes and defends media freedom and freedom of expression across the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) region.