Zimbabwean journalists marking World Press Freedom Day on Tuesday in Harare told Information Minister Webster Shamu the country must open up its airwaves and repeal repressive laws under which Zimbabwe remains a difficult working environment.
Journalists attending the event organized by the new Zimbabwe Media Commission said that while there has been some improvement on the print side with the licensing of independent dailies, they still feel targeted by authorities for reporting the truth.
Media professionals and officials representing the Information Ministry discussed media issues. Information Minister Shamu echoed a statement by President Robert Mugabe on Monday that journalists should not be hindered in their work - but should also not focus on the negatives side of the government and the nation's political parties.
Journalists for their part asked Shamu to assure them that their fellow professionals now in exile would be protected should they decide to return to Zimbabwe to work.
Media Commissioner Mathew Takaona told VOA Studio 7 reporter Sandra Nyaira that in a bid to liberalize the airwaves, his commission has decided to accelerate its efforts to find ways to promote the issuance of independent broadcasting licenses.
Zimbabwe National Students Union President Tafadzwa Mugwadi said foreign-based media have become more important as journalists have emigrated under pressure. He Tatenda Gumbo that exiled journalists should be protected if the come home.
US Ambassador to Zimbabwe Charles Ray said that although parts of the media have been liberalized, the working environment for journalists remains legally perilous which leads some media houses to practice self-censorship.
The US-based, federally funded think tank Freedom House said press freedom in Zimbabwe is on a par with that in Russia, ranking it 173 out of 196 nations.
Deputy Information Minister Murisi Zwizwai, noting that observances of Press Freedom Day were overshadowed by the grievances of journalists, assured VOA that independent broadcasters would be operating in Zimbabwe before the next elections.