An unfettered press key for strong democracy

HARARE - We join the rest of the world in celebrating the World Press Freedom Day.

Indeed, Zimbabwean journalists have every reason to celebrate but a celebration which could have been sweeter had our government been consistent in implementing reforms that promote free speech and expression.

This year’s theme: Safe to Speak: Securing Freedom of Expression in All Media comes at a time when the media is under intense scrutiny largely because of the emergence of other forms such as social media.

Here in Zimbabwe, it is a time to reflect on what currently obtains and what it could have been, had the promises made by the inclusive government upon consummation, been fulfilled.

We are coming to the end of the government of national unity whose achievements can be best described as a mixed bag.

Our government still criminalises journalism and has repressive laws in place which are an obstruction to freedom of expression, assembly and free speech.

Yes, the inclusive government has seen the re-emergence of the Daily News and Daily News On Sunday as well as the coming on stream of a host of other papers and magazines.

There has been partial liberalisation of the airwaves with the launch of ZiFM and Star Fm but no single community radio station has been given the green light to operate at large sale.

These are notable “achievements” but more could have been done.

Why do we still have laws that stifle the media?

The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa), Public Order Security Act (Posa) and Criminal Law Codification Act remain a danger to journalism.

They have been conveniently used to target particular journalists and media houses in the past and there are no guarantees that we will see a complete change of attitude.

With elections looming, there is evident trepidation amongst our colleagues.

This is out of realisation that our government changes its attitude towards journalists every time we hold elections.

The 2013 Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index shows Zimbabwe having made improvements in treating journalists.

Zimbabwe is ranked 133rd among a group of countries that has seen governments killing journalists.

Syria (176th), Somalia (175th), Pakistan (159th) and Mexico (153rd) have had large killings of journalists.

We remind our government of the need to promote free expression and strengthen its democracy by dumping laws that inhibit journalists.

As the world celebrates the Press Freedom Day, we crave a responsible but an unfettered media! - Staff Writer

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