'Not much to celebrate for scribes'

HARARE - Amid pomp and fanfare that blanketed the grinding poverty, Zimbabwe recently celebrated its 33rd birthday — but for journalists there is not much to celebrate.

The country has only one television station which dates back to the colonial era and just as it was used by the rogue Rhodesian regime for propaganda; it is used by Zanu PF to propagate propaganda.

This is in spite of the formation of a coalition government between political arch-foes President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in 2009.

Although a few media outlets were opened following the establishment of the coalition government, many journalists are either unemployed or worse, trapped in a system where self-censorship is all too common and access to government information remains a pipe dream.

Today, media practitioners across the globe will mark World Press Freedom Day but for Zimbabwean journalists press freedom remains an illusion.

Government has maintained most of the “draconian” laws that impinge on free expression such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa).

Media experts have slammed government for piecemeal reforms following the registration of two radio stations owned by institutions deemed to be pro-Mugabe.

The two are Zifm and Star FM, owned by aspiring Zanu PF parliamentary candidate Supa Mandiwanzira and Zimpapers respectively.

Some sections of the draft constitution adopted by the majority of citizens last month tries to entrench freedom of expression and freedom of the media as well as access to information, promising Zimbabweans free flow of information.

While media freedom pressure groups say they are grateful for the newly-enshrined liberties, they remain sceptical on whether the new law will be backed by the requisite political will.

Zimbabwe Union of Journalists secretary general Foster Dongozi said the new constitution left room for manipulation.

“We are fearful because the control mechanisms have been maintained, for example, the already existing and unwanted councils and commissions. The new order is moving towards self-regulation,” said Dongozi.

Media freedoms campaigner Rashweat Mukundu said political will to implement media reforms was lacking.

“The fundamental issue is whether there is political will to implement what the constitution says. There is doubt that there is willingness to shift from the current negative view of the media to develop a positive attitude that allows media freedoms to flourish and media to grow,” Mukundu said.

He insists that “in many respects Zimbabwe’s media is still very much in the woods”.

ZimRights director Okay Machisa says much more needs to be done to ensure media freedom.

“We still mourn fundamental freedoms that are still infringed through laws like Aippa. The new constitution, provided it is well respected, we can have a Zimbabwe that we can say upholds freedom of and expression,” Machisa said.

The Zimbabwean media has for ages been vulnerable because of draconian legislation, especially when it dares to expose political figures to scrutiny.

Journalists from the privately- owned media have borne the brunt the most as they have over the years been harassed, arrested or refused access to some official and party events simply because they are labelled part of the “regime change agenda” or are foreign funded to dethrone Mugabe’s Zanu PF from power for an unbroken three decades. - Wendy Muperi

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