Harare , May 3, 2014 – Police on Saturday moved to ban a World Press Freedom Day march and a road show organised by the Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations (ZACRAS) and Media Alliance of Zimbabwe.
The event meant to be a commemoration of the international day for scribes, had earlier been sanctioned by the police on the 16th of April.
On 29 April 2014 the ZRP Harare Traffic District Superintendent Administration office receipted $278 as payment and insurance for police officers who were to accompany the march.
When journalists arrived at the assembling point for the march early Saturday, they were shocked to meet riot police in full gear armed with a revocation letter reversing the earlier approval.
“Reference is made to your notification letter to commemorate World Press Freedom Day on the 3rd of May 2014 from 0830hrs to 1300hrs. This office regrets that our approval of the event has been withdrawn due to cropping up of other events of national interest and our police officers will be committed to such events. We sincerely regret for the inconvenience caused,” read the letter signed by Chief Superintendent Officer Commanding Police Harare Central District N Saunyama.
It was not clear which national events were happening in Harare on the day except for the on going Harare International Festival of the Arts.
Addressing journalists at a news conference soon after the cancellation of the march, ZACRAS chairperson Gift Mambipiri said the ban flies against the spirit of press freedom and access to information which is universally celebrated on May 3rd every year.
“The ban is an outright violation of Constitutional provisions which seek to promote media freedom and access to information. The irony of the development is not only that it violates the rights of media to celebrate a day set aside for them, but that it also happens at a time when the Information and Media Panel of Inquiry (IMPI) is conducting countrywide visits to gather citizens’ views on the state of media in Zimbabwe. As media organizations, we then wonder if the work of IMPI is genuine or a face saver,” Mambipiri said.
In recent times, government particularly through the Ministry of Information and Broadcast Services has taken a reformist approach from the previous heavy handedness that had become accustomed to the state. The ‘new’ minister of information Professor Jonathan Moyo has been extending an olive branch to journalists and media houses giving a positive dispensation, but Saturday’s incident came as a shocker.
Efforts to contact Professor Moyo nor his deputy Supa Mandiwanzira on the development were fruitless as their mobile phones were neither being being picked or available at the time of writing.
Mambipiri added, “It is now exactly a year since we adopted the new constitution, but have we seen any material changes – regarding the media– that underline that we are now under a new constitutional dispensation? We have not seen any!!! The media space, especially in broadcasting, is still constricted. Journalists are still being arrested as they would still have been, in 2008. We have not seen any huge appetite to align our media laws to the new constitution.”
As demands, Mambipiri said government should immediately align repressive legislation to the new constitution, adding that state arms such as police should promote and respect freedom of expression and access to information.
Over the years journalists have decried repressive laws such as the Public Order and Security Act which requires notification to police for any public gatherings. Freedom of assembly and expression is guaranteed under the new constitution adopted a year ago but laws that curtail freedoms continue to be used as government is yet to align old statutes to the new charter.