HARARE – The Media Institute of Southern Africa Zimbabwe (Misa Zimbabwe) has invited the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) to help break a deadlock over the lack of progress in media reforms ahead of key mid-year general elections.
Misa-Zimbabwe said five years after the African Union Election Observation Mission made recommendations on improving the state of the media in Zimbabwe, with these recommendations complemented by the media rights enshrined in Zimbabwe’s new Constitution which was gazetted shortly before the 2013 elections, the Zimbabwean government is still to implement the envisaged media reforms.
“This indeed is cause for great concern, especially in light of the fact that Zimbabwe is expected to hold general elections sometime this year,” Misa-Zimbabwe chairperson Golden Maunganidze said in a March 12 letter to Stergomena Lawrence Tax, the Sadc executive secretary.
“Misa-Zimbabwe respectfully submits that Zimbabwe’s government has the obligation and responsibility to implement the reforms in question without any further delays.
“This obligation arises from the country’s Constitution as well as regional instruments such as the Sadc Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections and the African Charter on Democracy Elections and Governance.”
Zimbabwe will hold elections in four to five months, according to President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Mnangagwa, 75, a protégé of long ruling despot Robert Mugabe, came to power in November after a military intervention when the 94-year-old was forced to resign after he was confined to his Harare mansion.
The Mnangagwa regime has continued using pieces of legislation restricting free expression.
The laws, which are used only against Zanu PF’s critics, exist in violation of Zimbabwe’s obligations under international law, under its Constitution, and according to commitments to undertake media reform.
Mnangagwa’s Zanu PF continues to rely on these laws, and the State-controlled media itself, to promote political propaganda and restrict independent information about the party.
In his letter to Tax, Maunganidze called for alignment of media laws with the Constitution, and called for an end to the partisan reporting by the public broadcaster.
Misa-Zimbabwe has called for the liberalisation of radio and television ownership and to ensure the safety and security of journalists. The leading press freedom group also called for an end to dual regulation and or accreditation of journalists.
“The requirement that a journalist, who is already accredited with the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC), needs further accreditation by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec), for election-related coverage, is unnecessarily cumbersome, bureaucratic and an unnecessary drain on the fiscus,” Maunganidze said.
“Journalists duly accredited by the ZMC, should thus be allowed to cover election-related processes and events in the spirit and letter of the right to media freedom.
Accreditation of journalists by the ZMC should suffice for election purposes.”
Misa-Zimbabwe told Sadc that freedom of information entails, among other principles that the media is entitled to investigate and report critically on the efficiency and probity of election administration.
“This is aptly provided for under Sections 61 and 62 of the Constitution which guarantees media freedom and access to information, respectively. It is Misa-Zimbabwe’s hope that the above submissions will assist the AU and Sadc missions to hold the Zimbabwean government to account based on its repeated promises to implement the long overdue media reforms.
“This is of paramount importance and urgency ahead of the 2018 elections which the government has repeatedly promised will be free, fair and credible,” the letter to Tax says.