Zimbabwe commemorated World Press Freedom Day on Sunday amid concerns from journalists and media stakeholders that the government is not doing much to promote freedom of expression and media and access to information as enshrined in the country’s constitution.
Local journalists say repressive media laws must be repealed or be aligned with the country’s new charter.
Foster Dongozi, secretary general of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ), says it is worrying that not much is being done to protect and promote press freedom in Zimbabwe.
Dongozi says this year’s World Press Freedom Day commemoration comes at a time when the media industry is struggling with a number of organizations shutting down, while those surviving are struggling and retrenching workers.
It is imperative, Dongozi says, for government to support media organizations to ensure sustainability.
Former ZUJ president and Zimbabwe Media Commissioner, Matthew Takaona, concurs, saying it’s a pity the Zimbabwe Media Fund that should be set up under the commission has not been functional due to lack of funds.
News organizations like The Zimbabwe Mail and Shortwave Radio Africa, among others, shut down in the last 12 months while those surviving like some newspapers under the Zimbabwe Newspapers Group and Alpha Media Holdings have retrenched journalists and other workers as the operating environment gets tougher.
Though there have been some developments in the broadcasting sector where eight radio stations have been licensed, journalists are concerned that the process was done using the Broadcasting Service Act, a piece of legislation, they say is defective and has to be repealed.
Takona says it is worrying that all licensed entities seem connected to President Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zanu PF party.
Media Centre director, Ernest Mudzengi, says while there have been some interests in the media industry there isn’t really much to celebrate on World Press Freedom Day as journalists continue to be harassed in Zimbabwe.
He says it is worrying that there is some discord in the government over repealing the country’s feared criminal defamation law.
Although Information Minister Jonathan Moyo says the criminal defamation law must go, his boss, Justice Minister and Deputy President Emmerson Mnangagwa, wants it to remain on the country’s statute books.
The Media Institute of Southern Africa Zimbabwe Chapter, three journalists and the state-owned Herald newspaper are challenging the constitutionality of the piece of legislation in court.
Masvingo resident, Norman Ngwaru, says repressive media legislation must be repealed to create an environment that is conducive for press and media freedom.
Nancy Makona, an avid reader of newspapers, also thinks there is not much freedom of the press and media in Zimbabwe.
World Press Freedom Day is commemorated worldwide on May 3. This year’s event will be held under the theme ‘Let Journalism Thrive: Towards Better Reporting, Gender Equality and Media Safety in the Digital Age.’
The theme casts a spotlight on challenges that are emerging for free and independent journalism, and quality reporting in the context of the digital age and includes issues of concentration of ownership, self-regulation, investigative journalism and the safety of journalism.