Journalists in Zimbabwe who cover parliamentary debates and proceedings, received new instructions Wednesday, that now requires them to get police clearance before being granted accreditation to cover parliament.
In a letter to journalists that VOA’s Studio 7 has possession of, parliament’s principal public relations officer, Tanyaradzwa Linda Manyemba, instructed all journalists who want to cover parliament business during the year 2016 to report to PAX House Public Relations Department, with their original ID cards and Media Commission Card, and in addition, two driver’s licence size photos, finger prints forms cleared by Zimbabwe Republic Police and a supporting letter from the organization for which they report.
Although the letter provided no further explanation, VOA’s Studio 7 was informed on good authority that security officials are the ones demanding that all journalists get police clearance, so as to vet them.
The security officials are reportedly not happy with the coverage of parliamentary proceedings published on online publications and the private media.
Independent journalists, Robert Tapfumaneyi said he was surprised by the news requirements, and wanted to know the basis for the change.
“So for us it’s quite surprising, we would want to know the reason behind this,” said Tapfumaneyi. “And on top of all that if they think that they are going to stop the outflow of information from parliament, that’s a non-starter,” he added.
Another female parliamentary journalist who declined to be named, said parliament’s demands were too much as it meant that journalists would have to pay more for accreditation. It costs $5 to get accredited with the Zimbabwe Media Commission but journalists would have to pay more as its costs $10 to get a police clearance.
“I think parliament is asking for too much from journalists and basically the fact that we have to be accredited by the Zimbabwe Media Commission and then to be accredited by parliament, it’s just too much for journalists,” said the journalist.
Zimbabwe Union of Journalists secretary general, Foster Dongozi, classified the police clearance requirement as unacceptable and told Studio 7 they would be engaging Speaker of Parliament Jacob Mudenda over the issue.
Chairman Kumbirai Mafunda of the Media Institute of Southern African-Zimbabwe, said MISA was equally concerned and the whole move by parliament was an attempt to stifle the free flow of information from the legislature.
“It’s just a matter of adding another layer of restriction amongst what’s journalists encounter,” Mafunda said, adding that, “journalists are already accredited with the Zimbabwe Media Commission, they are also required to be accredited to cover other national events, we have seen it in Victoria Falls and everywhere. You also look at the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission it requires journalists to be accredited to cover elections, so now we parliament also adding this cumbersome process to journalists,” Mafunda said, concluding that the aim of the changes is “an attempt to stifle the free flow of information.”
Mafunda added that it was very worrying given that the latest move comes after parliament security officials tried to bar journalists from doing live updates from parliament last year. That attempt was reversed by Speaker Mudenda who made a ruling allowing journalists to use their cell phones and other gadgets to do live updates from the press gallery in parliament building.
Mudenda could not be reached for comment.