BY VANESSA GUZHA
HUMAN rights groups yesterday lamented the continued deterioration of media freedoms and hailed journalists for weathering the storm to ensure citizens get relevant information to make informed decisions.
The groups said a free media played a key role in promoting democracy by exposing abuse of power and resources by authorities.
In statements to mark the World Press Freedom Day which was commemorated yesterday under the theme Information as a Public Good, ZimRights noted that the right to information remained under siege.
“As Zimbabwe tries to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and the massive human rights violations occurring, ZimRights notes that the right to information remains under siege in Zimbabwe.
“ZimRights has noted with concern the targeting of particularly those who provide human rights information. In 2020, 52 media violations were recorded by Misa -Zimbabwe compared to the 27 in 2019 showing an increase in violations,” ZimRights said in a statement.
“Journalists such as Hopewell Chin’ono continue to face persecution with two of his three cases still before the courts. State actors are still to comply with the High Court ruling that designated journalists as essential services and allowed them to freely do their work during this COVID-19 pandemic.”
The rights organisation also called on the State to open the airwaves by licensing more independent community radio stations.
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) said a free Press was crucial in exposing the abuse of public power, adding that the 1991 Windhoek Declaration should be implemented.
“A free Press serves to provide the general populace with the information that will enable it to hold the government accountable for the exercise of public power. In the absence of such information, the electorate cannot ensure that authorities will uphold the fundamental democratic principle that public power should be exercised in the public interest,” the ZLHR said.
“A free Press is one of the principal mechanisms for ensuring that the constitutional principles of accountability and transparency are upheld. Section 3(2) of the Constitution provides that the State, including all its institutions and agencies, is bound by the principles of good governance which include transparency, justice and accountability.
“We call on government to make a commitment towards respecting, protecting and promoting Press freedom in the country. Government must cease its systematic persecution of members of the Press. All members of the public must reflect on the sacrifices made by journalists and other members of the Press for the sake of freedom across the world.”
In a statement, Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa said government was committed to opening up the airwaves.
“Media practitioners in all their diversity are an important cog in nation-building. It is, therefore, important that their ability to carry out this task is not tampered with.”
Mutsvangwa said journalists must report truthfully and analytically and avoid sensationalism.