Scribes under attack

HARARE - As Zimbabwe cruises towards a crunch harmonised election, the media landscape still remains extremely bleak as journalists are being harassed everyday while newspaper copies are confiscated and vendors threatened for selling particular titles.

Although the country’s traditionally stringent media laws have been relaxed, thanks to the establishment under the Global Political Agreement (GPA) of a coalition government in 2008, practitioners are still alive to the existence of laws such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa) and an unforgiving political environment.

In recent weeks journalists from across both the private and public sector have fallen victims, either of State intimidation or from  political party activists; prompting media support groups and organisations such as the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (Zuj) to stitch up safety training workshops.

On Friday last week journalists from the private media were detained for at least an hour by Zanu PF activists, as they covered a demonstration by some disgruntled members of the former ruling party.

Foster Dongozi, Zuj’s secretary- general said there is need to train its 800 members on the rough media terrain under which they operate saying elections spell doom for journalists.

“We will be rolling out election    reporting workshops so that reporters are equipped with the information around a plethora of legislations under which they operate,” said Dongozi.

With most journalists living in fear of the revolving doors of the country’s prisons, many are not so keen to push the boundaries.

Not surprisingly, media reforms remain an outstanding issue as the country plunges into a vicious election season.

In his presentation to the Sadc extraordinary summit held on June 15, in Maputo, South African President Jacob Zuma, the Sadc anointed mediator to the Zimbabwean crisis, emphasised on the need to reform the media in order to create a conducive environment, ideal for free and fair elections.

“It is essential that the playing field in the media arena should be conducive to free and fair elections. Having regard to the limited time available, I would propose the creation of an Inter-Ministerial Committee drawn from the three parties to the GPA and from within Cabinet with sufficient powers to intervene in order to curb hate speech.

“It would also be the task of such a mechanism to intervene with State-controlled media to ensure that they maintain an impartial stance,” said Zuma.

Taught the hard way by history, Dongozi said Zuj is going to carry out safety training workshops as well as first aid lessons in case its members are tangled in violence.

It is not only violence that media organisations are bracing for, but also the spectre of arbitrary arrests.

“We are setting up a legal rabid response team of lawyers so that when our members are arrested we know who to call,” he said. “We have a small budget for media defence and safety which we will use to defend journalists if they are arrested. We want a guarantee from Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) of the safety of journalists because they will be running the elections,” said Dongozi.

Last week Zec, the body that is in charge of running electoral processes, warned journalists against purveying hate speech and warned of arrests.

“The law has placed your conduct under the surveillance of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission,” said Rita Makarau chairperson of the Zec.

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