Zimbabwe Journalists Under Assault

ZIMBABWE joins the rest of the world in marking World Press Freedom Day, May 3 still carrying the infamous crown of being one of the worst violators of media and freedom of expression rights in the world.

Despite attempts to cover up this distinction thorough amendments to repressive legislation in December 2007, the reality on the ground indicates that the Zanu PF government, still holding on to power, has not changed its spots.

Zimbabwe is probably one of the few countries that are unashamed of not only arresting but detaining journalists on cooked up charges ranging from the criminalisation of the profession itself to charges of political violence.

As a result of this two journalists are in state detention awaiting trial at the time of writing.

From experience, we are in no doubt that these cases will not stand the scrutiny of any competent court but those arrested will have served their “sentence”.

The levels of harassment, fear and anxiety that pervert the journalism profession is so far reaching that many are afraid of even being seen carrying out interviews or taking pictures in public.

In fact this madness has reached such levels that the apparatuses of repression can no longer distinguish between their “own journalists”, meaning those tasked with fuelling the propaganda machinery of the party and their “real enemies”, the journalists working for the independent media.

Hence the thorough beating of journalists and media workers from the state broadcaster, the ZBC, a few weeks ago.

We sympathise with our colleagues at the ZBC, and indeed feel for them and hope that this incident serves as a practical example and reality check on how Zanu PF and security agents are perpetrating violence.

Next time ZBC reporters such as Reuben Barwe report that violence against innocent civilians is non-existent, at least they can lift their heads across the newsroom and see living examples of such violence.

That should sober up our overzealous colleagues at the state media who are too fond of falling for the official line without the slightest attempt at objectivity.

This abuse has even taken the form of the state media being used as an official propaganda channel by the CIO.

Many of the letters to the editor appearing in state newspapers appear to be originating from Red Bricks.

More chilling for journalists is the behaviour of the police and militia groups who are showing a frightening distaste for the word journalist.

I know that from a war veteran uncle who thinks that journalists work for the British and Americans.

Following this line of thinking, a fellow journalist was arrested while filming at the Fourth Street bust terminus.

His alleged crime was that he had filmed the hive of activity at Zimbabwe’s foreign currency exchange market.

Professing his innocence and his right to work by producing the MIC-issued accreditation card did not help matters.

The journalist ran the tape backwards to show that, in fact, he had not filmed the police, again this did not help.

The police, he was told, are under instructions to arrest journalists. This sounds like something from Stalin’s Soviet Union or Pol Pot’s Cambodia, but it is Zimbabwe.

The journalist and his camera were duly dragged throughout the city centre on their way to Harare Police Station.

Along the way a call was made that a journalist had been arrested and the chefs at the central station were already preparing a place for him.

The police officers confessed that they had been told to arrest journalists, anyone who claims to be a journalist and seen in public doing their work.

Zanu PF through its apparatchiks such as George Charamba and Tafataona Mahoso have poisoned the media profession so badly over the years that it will take a lot of work to restore sanity.

In the true sense of the word, it is difficult to talk of any serious media business or journalism in Zimbabwe as a result of the environment of fear that Zanu PF has created.

The remaining independent media voices are under so much pressure economically and from state security agents to the extent that some cannot even trust their own staff.

In an environment where the intelligence is able to read independent newspapers before they are published, one really wonders what else the CIO is capable of doing.

The media and the profession of journalism are much worse when you have individuals such as Charamba and Mahoso who find pleasure in the collapse of an industry they should have helped grow.

By Rashweat Mukundu:Media monitoring and research programme specialist based in Windhoek, Namibia.

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