JOURNALISM in my view is one of the noblest professions in the world and I am proud to be a journalist.
My heart bleeds however concerning an emerging crop of journalists who no longer abide by professional ethics and break the law willy-nilly or even infringe on the rights of other citizens, only to hide behind the guise of freedom of the press when asked to be accountable for their omissions and commissions.
Freedom of the press is a constitutional right as enshrined in our statutes.
However, this freedom is not a gateway to irresponsible reporting and should be monitored, as it is prone to abuse.
A disturbing trend has emerged whereby journalists in Zimbabwe rush to cry foul and allege persecution of the press each time a journalist is said to have broken the law by the relevant authorities.
Following the arrest of Sunday Mail editor Edmund Kudzayi, some sections of society have come out guns blazing accusing the Zanu PF government of being ruthless, muzzling the press and intimidating journalists, among a myriad of other sinister accusations.
What all these people are forgetting is that no one is above the law and people should not hide behind the guise of being journalists.
Journalists are not untouchable supreme beings.
Kudzayi stands accused of attempting to commit acts of insurgency, banditry, sabotage or terrorism as well as subverting the constitutional government. He also faces two lesser charges of insulting the president and publishing falsehoods.
These allegations are not to be taken lightly and carry a life sentence upon conviction.
As such, I do not think the Zimbabwe Republic Police would have committed themselves to arresting Kudzayi without proper investigation. The fact that they arrested him shows they believe they have something that links him to the crimes.
If his hands are clean, then the courts will set him free. Simple.
Whether Kudzayi is innocent or guilty is up to the courts to determine, as such I do not see the need to cry on his behalf as I am not qualified at law to declare his innocence.
There is no need for lobbying or wailing on social networks and in the various media about the unfair treatment of journalists in Zimbabwe.
Of all the people who are crying foul over Kudzayi’s arrest, no one has bothered to check whether the crimes he stands accused of hold water or not, what evidence the police have. To them, he just should not have been arrested, period.
So what should the police do when they suspect a journalist has committed a crime? Beg him/her to confess from the comfort of their homes?
Should the police let journalists walk naked in the street for fear of being accused of muzzling the press?
Instead of making noise now, journalists’ unions and civic groups should let the law take its full course and if it emerges that the journalists were wrongly accused, then they can make all the proclamations and noise they want and demand retribution.
As it is, they risk being left with egg on the face. Journalists should be accountable and not rush to play the victim each time they find themselves on the wrong side of the law.
I have nothing against fellow journalists; I simply appreciate that it is just a profession like any other and the practitioners are as accountable as the next person for their actions.
It has been proved time and again that Zimbabwe’s courts are fair and just. Only recently, the Constitutional Court made a landmark ruling decriminalising defamation.
In its ruling, a full bench comprising Justices Godfrey Chidyausiku, Luke Malaba, Vernanda Ziyambi, Elizabeth Gwaunza, Anne-Marie Gowora, Ben Hlatshwayo, Bharat Patel and Antoinette Guvava, ruled that “the offence (criminal defamation) is not reasonably justifiable in a democratic society and is inconsistent with freedom of expression guaranteed in the constitution”.
The ruling came after former Standard editor Nevanji Madanhire and reporter Nqaba Matshazi challenged criminal defamation in the ConCourt.
In the case, Madanhire and Matshazi were arrested for allegedly defaming founder and chairperson of the Green Card Medical Aid Society, Munyaradzi Kereke in November 2011, but the ConCourt ruled criminal defamation has no place in a democratic society.
Why then do journalists not have faith in the courts and mourn as if their kith who are arrested face certain doom?
The Committee to Protect Journalists in Capetown, South Africa, released a statement calling on the Zimbabwe police to “immediately release” Kudzayi and “drop all charges”.
So this committee wants an individual facing charges of banditry, insurgency and terrorism to be immediately released before the law has run its course? On what grounds; that he is a journalist?
Then we might as well not have courts to start with if proceedings in the country are to be directed by journalists’ unions, foreign for that matter, in the comfort of plush offices overlooking Table Mountain.
I have a question for the committee. If Kudzayi was a medical doctor instead of a journalist and facing the same charges, would they call for his immediate release?
I doubt that very much, but what is the difference between the two?
“Whatever political battles are being played out in Zimbabwe, we urge authorities to allow journalists to report freely on debate within government and the ruling party, the arrest and extremely harsh charges filed against Kudzayi are likely to have a chilling effect on all journalists, in turn depriving citizens of their right to information,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Sue Valentine.
Point of correction, Madame Valentine. Inciting banditry and insurgency can never, even with the furthest stretch of the imagination, be equated to “reporting freely on debate within government and the ruling party”.
And why would journalists be “chilled” if they were not breaking the law? This tendency of hiding behind the frills of press freedom should stop.
Nicole Hondo is a freelance journalist, novelist and social commentator based in Harare and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org