Long road to press freedom

HARARE - Zimbabwe joined the rest of the world in celebrating the international Press Freedom Day yesterday at a time there are growing concerns over rising violations against the local media.

While the country has marginally improved for the second year running on the international press freedom index, where it moved from 135 to 131 out of 182 countries, a lot still needs to be done.

The media environment is heavily skewed in favour of the state which has seen its influence in the broadcasting services sector grow.

Despite committing to opening up the airwaves, Zimbabwe has no private broadcasters, as licences have been awarded to companies with links to Zanu PF.

The terrain remains a Zanu PF preserve and there are genuine fears that nothing will change in the short to medium term.

Sadly, Radio Dialogue, a private initiative which has been battling to secure a broadcasting licence for more than 12 years, has been overlooked at every selection process.

Violations against the independent media have been on the rise and these are driven by both the state actors and non-state actors who include churches.

While days of arbitrary arrests and violence against journalists appear to have been binned, there is an increase in the number of “unofficial” bans against the independent media from covering state functions.

Disconcertingly, security agents are at the forefront of chasing away independent journalists from state-organised functions and in some cases, they would have been accredited to cover such events.

This is despite government’s commitment to uphold freedom of expression which is guaranteed in the new constitution which came into effect after a successful referendum of March 2013.

What is even more galling is the fact that despite government slamming these actions, the harassment and violations are repeated with some sense of impunity.

This is a kick in the teeth to the efforts of both journalists and Information minister Jonathan Moyo who has, to his credit, been quite vocal in his support of repealing harsh media laws such as the criminal defamation.

A complete repealing of laws such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy and amendments to some sections of the Broadcasting Services Act will go a long way in showing the government’s commitment to promoting free expression.

As it is, there is nothing suggesting that Zimbabwe is determined to shed off its unwanted tag of being among enemies of press freedom.

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