Govt must guarantee journalists' protection

HARARE - As Zimbabwe joined the world in commemorating World Press Freedom Day yesterday, making the habitual — yet highly necessary — condemnations of constant harassment of journalists, the need for government to protect media practitioners cannot be over-emphasised.

In the past few months, journalists from both private and public media have been constantly harassed and physically assaulted by politicians, among others for merely doing their jobs.

A report by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) revealed that about 23 journalists were unlawfully arrested or detained while 12 were assaulted by either police or unruly political activists while carrying out their duties last year.

As Zimbabwe was celebrating this day meant to raise the awareness of how important the freedom of the press is, President Robert Mugabe’s government should be reminded about its duty to uphold and respect the right to freedom of expression.

By now, we are all aware of the fact that freedom of expression is an obvious fundamental right in the modern world. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is clear on the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

Indeed, our own new Constitution also explicitly guarantees the freedom of expression and freedom of the press and it is possible to bring genuine transformation to the nation once the media has been transformed.

The media, which has always played a crucial role in Zimbabwe and across the world in bringing human rights violations to the attention of the general public and relevant stakeholders, must be allowed to operate in a completely free and safe environment.

The work of the press is important in ensuring that the danger to peace caused by human rights violations and by exclusion are curtailed, hence the need for a free operational environment for individual journalists and media houses.

The Media Alliance of Zimbabwe’s concerns over government’s threats on media freedom are justifiable as the development poses a chilling effect on citizens’ rights to free expression and access to information both online and offline as evidenced by stern measures such as the blackout on social media platforms and the plans to enact laws that will hinder online activities under the guise of preventing cyber-crimes.

As such, government should swiftly align the country’s media laws, policy and regulatory framework with the Constitution and in line with the regional and international instruments which Zimbabwe is signatory to.

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