BY HARRIET CHIKANDIWA
Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Zimbabwe has urged government to use the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) report and other reports it produced such as the Southern Africa Press Freedom Report to strengthen media regulatory frameworks.
The call by Misa comes after Zimbabwe has been ranked at 130 out of 180 countries in 2021 compared to 126 in 2020, new rankings by RSF show.
Misa Zimbabwe said the year 2020 saw a massive escalation of media freedom violations, with 52 journalists arrested, detained, harassed or assaulted.
However, Misa Zimbabwe also noted that there have been some improvements in the media law environment such as the repeal of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the enactment of the Freedom of Information Act.
Meanwhile, proposed laws such as the Cybersecurity and Data Protection Bill have some clawback provisions that need to be addressed as they have the effect of reversing the progress that has been made so far.
RSF noted that on assumption of office, President Emmerson Mnangagwa promised to reinforce the pillars of democracy including the media, which had remained gagged under the late former President Robert Mugabe’s era .
“However, Mnangagwa was notorious for suppressing dissent when he was National Security minister and his first steps with regard to Press freedom have been marked more by promises than anything like the concrete progress for which those journalists had hoped,” RSF said.
On the positives, RSF said: “Access to information has improved and self-censorship has declined, but journalists are still often attacked or arrested.”
The report added: “The blocking of social media at the start of 2019, when major protests against a fuel price hike were being organised, shows that the regime has not renounced the use of cyber-censorship to prevent information from circulating.
“Hopes of journalistic renewal were further dampened in 2020 when Zimbabwe positioned itself between Nigeria and Uganda on the podium of Africa’s most repressive countries with regard to the coverage of the coronavirus crisis.”
The report noted the arrest of freelance journalist Hopewell Chin’ono, who helped expose corruption in the procurement of COVID-19 equipment.
It further said the security apparatus had not yet dumped the habit of harassing journalists.
“Journalists are worried about a Cyber-Crime Bill that is being drafted because it would allow the security apparatus to legally spy on private conversations.”