Media freedom under siege in #Zimbabwe

via Media freedom under siege | The Zimbabwean 04.05.14 by Media Alliance Zimbabwe

The Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations (ZACRAS) and the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ) condemns the last minute ban on a World Press Freedom Day march and road show organized by ZACRAS and MAZ, on Saturday 3 May 2014.

On a day set aside to celebrate World Press Freedom day, the police issued a letter to revoke an earlier clearance given to ZACRAS and MAZ for their world press freedom day function. The clearance for the event had been issued on the on the 16th of April 2014. When participants got to corner Chinhoyi Street and Robert Mugabe at 9am, they found riot police in full gear ready to disperse the crowd. They then proceeded to produce another letter dated 2 May and stamped on 3 May to the effect that the march and road-show had been cancelled, allegedly due to other events of national interest.

The ban of the ZACRAS and MAZ function flies against the spirit of press freedom and access to information which is universally celebrated annually on the 3rd of May. 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.

The media, and a good one for that matter, is key to Good Governance. Despite the unfortunate developments we wish to take time to thank members of the media– those from the newsrooms and also those who work behind the scenes – bringing us images, audio and text material from all over and into our homes and offices for the work that they are doing. It goes without saying that the media has played a pivotal role in providing news and information especially on the ongoing salarygate scandal. We salute even those we lost especially in the last year. We appreciate you because we know it is not easy to tell the Zimbabwean story. You more often than not, have to negotiate through poor working conditions, unhelpful pieces of legislation and a much polarised society that sees shadows in every news report. It therefore becomes fashionable to either be visited by the police or to be assigned a home in one faction or the other, of our factitious political movements.

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 a way forward, we demand that

• That the government of Zimbabwe immediately aligns repressive legislation to the new Constitution.

• The government, particularly arms of state such as the police, promotes and respects freedom of expression and access to information.

• That community radios be licensed as a matter of urgency.

In conclusion, and on behalf of other media stakeholders, we re-affirm the decade long argument for the opening of the broadcasting space. Let the media space be opened, but not just to give us more of the same, but to bring out the geographical, artistic and cultural diversity that defines us as Zimbabweans.