By Itai Muzondo
“I wonder what reporters are doing here when what they shoot is never published or if published the beat is fine tuned to suit someone’s interests,” were the words of MDC – T leader Morgan Tsvangirai attacking a team of reporters who were covering his rally recently in Masvingo.
“Are you not ashamed,” he further questioned.
Tsvangirai highlighted a major setback towards media freedom, let alone media credibility which really need those who see beyond human scope to interpret as the question whether press freedom in Zimbabwe is progressing or regressing remains unmasked to many.
As Zimbabwe celebrated with fellow journalists globally the World Press Freedom Day on Sunday May 3, many media practitioners have highlighted that the media in Zimbabwe is rather facing a regression than progression especially towards the situation that media houses are closing down and government reluctance in aligning the new constitution to the media laws that have for long been expressed as repressive and draconian.
Moreso, though Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe’s (MMPZ) media credibility index has shown an improvement of balanced and fair coverage, as of the 1 093 stories taken under research, 800 were good though media have been blamed of reportage that are biased to the interests of the powerful.
The negatives towards press freedom however set aside from the MMPZ research that which states that digital media has advanced media freedom via digital media to a considerable level as they argue that the online platforms have channeled balanced feedback which is not questionable to the gate keeping processes.
In their research report, MMPZ said, “The internet has played a big role in democratizing the access to information and the participation by the Zimbabwean public, particularly ordinary citizens in public debate. The emergence of internet technology has undeniably broken down many boundaries that hinder media freedom in terms of participation
Rather than being limited to a few selected comments on the ‘letters’ pages of newspapers, or commentators on current affairs or phone – in programmes on radio and television, social media does not restrict the number of commentators and rarely limits the number of words one wants to use (with the exception of Twitter, which restricts tweets to 140 characters),” revealed the research.
Veteran journalist and producer, Tafuma Machakaire said the country is still lagging behind in terms of media freedom though he applauded the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) for bringing more players in the broadcasting fraternity.
“Basing on the current IMPI document, our media is still a lap behind when it comes to media freedom. I therefore urge the government to take the document seriously as it has since been submitted to them from the media practitioners themselves. At this point, the whole media fraternity actually pins their hope on them that necessary recommendations will be taken to improve the media environment from which we operate from.
“I would however want to acknowledge and thank BAZ for granting more licences to radio stations bringing more players to the broadcasting fraternity,” said Machakaire.
The national chairperson for Media Institute for Southern Africa, Kumbirai Mafunda said the state of press freedom in the country is disturbing as he blamed the government for failing to align the laws to the new constitution which saw the survival of the much criticised media laws survive to this time.
“The state of media freedom in Zimbabwe is quite worrying. I say so because government has failed to align the media laws to the new constitution which is a clear point that the environment we operate under as media practitioners in Zimbabwe is still harsh and unfriendly.
This has consequently led to the closure of big players in the print media industry being the Southern Eye and Zimbabwean Mail. Such setbacks which are caused by draconian and restrictive laws further makes the nation’s unemployment rate exceed existing numbers as graduates will continue roam the streets as because jobs will not be readily available. Besides the employment situation, access to information is limited as channels of information decrease by the wake of each day,” said Mafunda.
Meanwhile, UNESCO is running this year’s world press freedom day under the theme, “Let Journalism Thrive! Towards Better Reporting, Gender Equality, and Safety in the Digital Age”