The day also allows journalists to examine what they are doing — right and wrong.
This is particularly important for journalists in Africa where press freedom is still in the intensive care unit and where frontiers need to be pushed to broaden and deepen media freedom, while upholding journalistic ethics and integrity.
World Press Freedom Day was jointly established in 1991 by Unesco and the UN Department of Public Information within the framework of a conference held in Namibia which ushered the Windhoek Declaration, underscoring press freedom, as well as media pluralism and diversity.
However, reactions to the Windhoek Declaration across the continent have been mixed, spawning an authoritarian backlash and, in some cases, change. Zimbabwe’s response has been a mixture of both, which is why it remains an outpost of autocracy.
The chilling conclusion to the official Press Freedom Day address by Information minister Webster Shamu yesterday, warning “gloves may soon be off” if the “anti-African” and “anti-Zimbabwean frenzy” in the media continues –– whatever that means — further shows we live in a police state where press freedom and journalists remain in danger.
Although it is important for journalists to resist intimidation and continue fighting for their rights, especially when we have ministers threatening to take their “gloves off”, it is also equally critical to look at ourselves in the mirror and be honest as to whether we are doing a good job, adhering to ethics and upholding the public interest –– not just making noise and banal slogans, while airbrushing our own shortcomings.
Even if there are radicals who want to redefine our ethics arguing most of the basic tenets are either clichéd or myths, it is important for the media to remain ethical. This is critical, particularly when a revolution is currently sweeping across the global media landscape. There is need to hold the line on basics: truthfulness, accuracy and fairness, as well as public accountability.
We don’t need politicians or anyone for that matter to tell us this, but we have to do it as part of our professional responsibility. That’s why Shamu’s threats are entirely uncalled-for. What does he mean when he says “gloves may soon be off?” Is it necessary for the minister to so brazenly intimidate journalists? What is he trying to prove? That Zimbabwe is a police state and journalists work in a climate of fear?
However, this is not to say journalists must be unprofessional and intransigent in the process. As an existential necessity and professional duty, we must be ethical but also firm, especially with public officials who want to abuse power and scare away journalists from exposing their incompetence and corruption.
We either adjust to change or die. It is clear a new journalistic ethos is required, given technological advances and the Internet, as well as social media.
The confluence of press freedom and freedom of expression has given rise to unprecedented levels of freedom, keeping dictators under pressure and on the back foot, even though repression persists.
The use of social media, ICTs and satellite television, for instance, has played a revolutionary role in democratic and political processes. This has helped to enable civil society, the young generation and communities to wangle massive social and political transformations. The Arab spring revolutions come to mind.
World Press Freedom Day is thus imperative, not just to media owners and journalists, but also to ordinary people as it serves as an occasion to inform citizens, some of whose political and civil liberties are being trampled under, of violations of press freedom –– a reminder that in many countries around the world, the media are still operating in repressive environments.
Media houses are still being suppressed, censored or closed, while journalists are harassed, detained and even murdered. That is why journalists must fight on.
It is sad Zimbabwe remains one of those countries in the world in which the private media and journalists are still subjected to systematic repression, intimidation and arrests. The state still openly abuses the public media and maintains a vice-like grip on airwaves. In short, media tyranny is still endemic in Zimbabwe. Shamu’s unnecessary and untenable threats yesterday provided further evidence to this.