Zimbabwe’s public institutions have been accused of being “secretive” and “closed” in giving out information thereby constituting a stumbling block to journalists, ahead of World Press Freedom day tomorrow.
This was said by the Media Institute of Southern Africa-Zimbabwe (Misa) at a World Press Freedom day breakfast dubbed Right to Information Key to Life in Harare.
Misa-Zimbabwe presented research it carried out in July 2013 in which it assessed the accessibility of information held by public bodies.
According to Misa director Nhlanhla Ngwenya, the assessment was based on two aspects: accessibility of information upon request, and proactive dissemination of information by public bodies.
Twelve institutions, namely Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (Zupco), Zimbabwe Schools Examination Council (Zimsec), Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC), Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra), the Ministry of Tourism, Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (Zesa), Ministry of Women’s Affairs, and the Ministry of Home Affairs, were assessed.
The ministries of Information and Publicity, Education, Higher and Tertiary Education and Indigenisation were also among public institutions assessed.
In assessing the institutions, Misa evaluated the websites of selected public institutions to establish the efficiciency of the organisation of provision of public information, and responses to written and oral requests for specific information.
Zupco emerged as the only institution without a website out of the research subjects, while eight public institutions namely Zimsec, Zimra, Zesa, the SRC, ministries of Women’s Affairs, Higher Education and Indigenisation had updated and organised information.
“The three ministries’ websites had clear content management problems such as poor website structuring and inadequate information. However, all websites did not have budgets, expenditure, and other critical operational information,” according to the research findings.
On responses in writing, only four out of the 12 public institutions, namely Zimsec, Media ministry, the Ministry of Tourism and the SRC “comprehensively answered the questions proffered” while only Zimra failed to fulfil its promise to respond in writing.
“The majority of institutions remain rather closed when it comes to placing information in the public domain. Most (67%) of the public institutions under review can easily be qualified as being secretive, especially in light of their failure to respond to written requests for information that were made during the research period,” the findings say.
This year’s Press Freedom Day celebrations come as journalists, especially from the private media, continue to be harassed.
Newsday editor Nevanji Madanhire and reporter Moses Matenga were this week arrested for a story on the death four-year-old Neil Tanatswa Mutyora, fatally run over by a speeding commuter omnibus fleeing police.
Last month Daily News editor Stanley Gama and senior reporter Fungi Kwaramba were also arrested after a police report by businessman Kamal Khalfan following stories published by the paper linking him to underhand deals in Zimbabwe, which he denies.
The two journalists face criminal defamation charges.